Tag Archives: Wrestling

Valpo U.’s Tucker took it to another level in 2022

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

Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022.
The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons.
Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season.
He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that.
“This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.”
Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall.
After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll.
While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting.
“I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.”
Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill.
Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation.
A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection.
With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position.
Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship.
He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior.
“It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding.
“The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.”
Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer.
“He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader.
“He was always there to reassure you and make you confident.
“It’s about the man you become.”
Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins.
Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker.
In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont.
Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility.
“I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.”
Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Northwest Indiana natives LaTroy Hawkins and Nolan Tucker meet in Texas in 2020.

UIndy ‘late bloomer’ Rivas grows into D-II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year

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

University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw.
All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
“The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit.
“I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.”
Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team.
“The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension.
The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.).
“My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas.
At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant.
“He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players.
“It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.”
Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things.
“When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider.
“(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up.
During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.
“We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.”
Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face.
In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways.
Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties.
Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon.
The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore.
Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993.
Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119).
Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career.
“I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018.
Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized.
“When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.”
He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21.
“I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas.
A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic.
He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team.
“I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas.
This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.
“That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did.
This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish.
Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year.
He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams.
Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.

Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Holley teaching life lessons with Wabash Apaches

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

Jack Holley Jr. played baseball at Wabash (Ind.) High School and was on the state championship team coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chris Rood.
Holley was a sophomore when the Apaches won the title in 1986. Tom Dempsey struck out 12 as Wabash beat Marion 2-1. Jeff Wagner and Brent Johnson (game-winning double) drove in one run each in the top of the seventh inning. The first run was scored by future big leaguer Keith Shepherd and the decisive tally by pinch-runner Holley.
Years later, Holley talks about the life lessons he learned from Rood and about leading the program today.
“(Coach Rood) taught you so much baseball and more things outside the game than most people realize,” says Holley, who joined the baseball staff at his alma mater in the early 2000’s and has been head coach since the 2015 season. “It’s the discipline he instilled in me and his expectations of your as a player, student and a man. These are the things I try to utilize.
“When you’re 16, 17, 18 years old you don’t realize the lessons you’re learning from any high school sport. Winning games is nice. I want effect men in a positive way and that’s probably more important.”
Wabash (enrollment around 470) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In 2021, the Apaches was host of IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester and Whitko. Wabash has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2019 when the team went 18-7.
Holley says the Apaches would have had 11 seniors for the 2020 season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two members of that class — outfielder/right-handed pitcher Jared Holley (Manchester University after transferring from Kankakee Community College) and catcher/outfielder Kallen Kelsheimer (Huntington University) — are on college baseball teams.
Holley says three current Wabash players — seniors middle infielder/outfielder Jared Brooks and first baseman/right-hander Chayden Beeks and junior right-hander/catcher Andrew Dillon — have been drawing collegiate interest.
Brooks is all the school’s all-time leader in wrestling victories. Holley sees Dillon as his probable No. 1 mound starter in 2022. Other seniors include Colten Learned and Blake Smith.
The Apaches went 15-14 in 2021, making Holley’s career mark 87-76-1.
The 2022 coaching staff includes Kyle Kelsheimer (Kallen’s brother) as varsity assistant, Luke Helton as pitching coach, Nick Hentgen as junior varsity head coach and Andy Castro, Jordan Holley, Chandler Jones, Kent Montgomery and Shane Smith.
Kelsheimer and Helton are teacher at Wabash. Helton is a Tippecanoe Valley graduate who played at Manchester U. All the rest are played for the Apaches.
Justin Holley coaches the Wabash Middle School team. Started when Matt Stone was varsity head coach, the feeder team helps with the gap between Wabash Little League (T-ball through age 12) and high school.
“It’s an awesome addition to our baseball program,” says Holley. “(Junior high players) get accustomed to what we teach. It’s a way to retain those kids and keep them interested in (baseball).
“We were losing some of those kids. They’d go out for track and we’d never get them back.”
There are typically 20 to 25 players — Grades 6-8 — who play 12 to 16 games in the spring. Middle school practices and games are at Chris Rood Field.
“They usually practice before or after (the high school),” says Holley. “Someone from the varsity or JV staff can help them. They get to know us.”
There is a junior/senior league serving all of Wabash County. Middle schoolers used to practice and play on that field.
“There was a disconnect with middle school teams to our program,” says Holley.
Jack Holley Jr. is in his 21st year as a Welding Technology teacher at Heartland Career Center in Wabash. He and wife of 29 years on Feb. 20, Misti, have four sons — Jack III (29), Justin (27), Jordan (24) and Jared (20). All four boys played baseball at Wabash. Jack and Jordan are U.S. Army veterans. Jack III has two boys with a girl on the way.
Chris Rood Field is located on the Wabash campus and sits in a natural bowl. Spectators sit on a side of a hill looking down at the diamond. Trees were removed to place the field. A few years ago — needing a community service project — Holley’s students created the landscaped seating area around the press box.
An outfielder and pitcher as a player, Holley graduated from Wabash in 1988 and went on to play for Paul Twenge at Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
An ACL injury suffered on the football field as a freshman kept Holley off the diamond in 1989. He played for Twenge’s Crusaders 1990-93 — the first two years in right field and the last two in center. He was also a closer on the mound.
In 1992, Holley hit .285 (41-of-144) with two home runs, eight doubles and 16 runs batted in and five stolen bases.
Holley began coaching football at Wabash right out of college and was the Apaches head coach 2003-07.

Wabash Apaches Baseball. Hall of Famer Chris Rood wore No. 37.
Jack Holley.
Chayden Beeks.
Jared Brooks.
Colten Learned.
Shane Smith.
Wabash (Ind.) High School’s Ashton Smith at first base and Izaak Wright at second at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

Swinson now leading Southwood Knights on diamond

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

Steve Swinson likes the kind of athletes he’s working with as the new head baseball coach at Southwood Junior/Senior High School, part of the Metropolitan School District of Wabash (Ind.) County.
“It’s been really good transition,” says Swinson, who has been leading the Knights since January. “The players’ philosophies are pretty much on the same page as myself.
“These are competitive, hard-nosed kids. They want to succeed. They want to be better.
“It’s a winning attitude at Southwood. They don’t throw in the towel.”
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, Swinson has been working with players who are not involved in basketball. Twenty eight have signed up for Southwood baseball this spring.
“We lost lost five pretty good seniors and a lot of pitching (from the 2021 team),” says Swinson. “The big thing is being consistent. not walking a lot of guys and letting the defense play behind us.”
The coach is confident his Knights will do their best to do just that.
“They’re going to work at it,” says Swinson. “By the end of the year they’re going to figure some things out.”
An advocate of arm care, Swinson wants to make sure he’s maintaining the health of his throwers.
“I like 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 Swinson. “A lot of it’s on the athlete. He has to make sure to take care of his arm.”
Swinson, who is working with a coaching staff of Cory Blocker and Dan Lloyd at the varsity level and Christian Deeter with the junior varsity, sees college potential in senior left-handed pitcher Koby Thomas, junior catcher Mo Lloyd and junior right-handed pitcher/outfielder Cole Winer.
Southwood (enrollment around 230) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Peru, Rochester, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).
TRC play each other once and games on Tuesdays and Thursdays
In 2021, the Knights were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (host), North Miami, North White, Northfield, Pioneer and West Central. Southwood has won five sectional titles — the last in 2021. Carson Rich (Class of 2021) tossed a no-hitter in a 4-0 championship game win against Pioneer.
Fundraisers will be held to help maintain and upgrade Southwood’s home diamond located north of the football field on the northeast corner of the campus.
Swinson says the batting cage is top priority. Dugouts are likely to be re-painted with trimming and edging done to the infield.
Stepping down at Eastbrook High School near the end of the 2019 season, Swinson did not coach at high school baseball in 2020 and 2021 but did lead Indiana Nitro travel teams both summers.
He was head baseball coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School 2007-11 and has assisted at Western High School.
Swinson has served two stints as head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School and is currently head wrestling coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind.
A 1987 Kokomo High School graduate, he retired after 27 1/2 years with the Howard County Highway Department, where he was a supervisor/foreman.
Swinson coached Southside baseball in Kokomo to the 1995 Bambino World Series in Abbeyville, La. His coaching stops also include Indiana Wesleyan University (football), Marion High School and Lewis Cass High School.
Steve and wife of 29 years — Stacey — live in Greentown and have two children. Son Saxon Swinson (28) is in the IT department at Marian University in Indianapolis. Daughter Shayden Swinson (18) is a Manchester University freshman.

Steve Swinson

Alum Salazar takes over Wawasee baseball program

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

Knowing that he wanted to apply for a head coach position at his alma mater, Joe Salazar changed his day job.
A few months ago, Salazar became project manager at Grand Design RV in Middlebury, Ind., — a position which requires less hours than his previous place of employment — and was hired to run the baseball program at Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., where he graduated in 1994.
Salazar, who is in the process of bringing in assistants and plans to get in a few workouts during the current IHSAA Limited Contact Period which ends Oct. 16 while also serving as third-year eighth grade head football coach at Wawasee, has outlined some areas of emphasis.
“We’re looking to improve in a lot of areas — our record, (Northern Lakes Conference) finish and make a good run at sectional,” says Salazar, who takes over the Warriors from Wawasee alum Brent Doty, who resigned to concentrate on his athletic director duties. “We want to get back to the basics and put the ball in play.
“I looked at the stats and a lot of guys left runners on base or did not get down sacrifices.”
Wawasee (enrollment around 950) is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (with Concord, Goshen, Mishawaka, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble. Wawasee has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2021 on their own field. The Warriors’ previous sectional championship came in 1997.
The 2021 team went 18-13 overall and 8-6 in the NLC and featured seven seniors. Among those was Kameron Salazar, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection now on the baseball team at Marian University in Indianapolis and a roommate of A.J. Bordenet (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tim Bordenet of Lafayette Central Catholic).
Joe’s younger son — Kaleb — is a sophomore. When Kaleb’s classmates were 8 and 9, Joe established the Wawasee Elite travel team that played in 10U events. Joe Salazar was also an assistant coach for Northern Indiana Elite during Kameron’s 12U summer.
Other Wawasee returnees include the Brooks brothers — senior Grant and sophomore Ty. Their new coach be Wawasee’s top two pitchers in 2022.
Grant Brooks, a Butler University commit, hit .415 (39-of-94) with five home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 31 runs in 27 games in 2021. As a pitcher, he appeared in eight games and went 6-1 with a 1.38 earned run average, 48 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
Ty Brooks pitched in nine games and posted a 4-2 mound mark with a 1.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 33 innings.
Senior Lucas Ringler, who hit .289 (26-of-90) five triples, three doubles, 16 RBIs and 29 runs in 27 games in ’21, and junior Colt Dolsen, who batted .338 (22-of-65) with 12 RBIs in 24 games, are also expected back.
The junior varsity team wrapped last spring by winning a tournament and several of those players move up to varsity.
“They’re hard workers,” says Salazar of his young squad. “We can have a pretty decent team.”
Four 2020 Wawasee graduates — Logan Adkins (University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.), Levi Brown (Anderson, Ind., University), Antonio Garcia-Sanchez (Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) and Carter Woody (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) — were on college baseball posters in 2021.
Salazar, who has been involved in community sports for many years, hopes to establish a feeder system of travel teams.
“That’s what successful programs are doing,” says Salazar. “They’re playing together (and learning how its done at the high school).”
Joe Salazar participated four years each of baseball and football and two each of basketball and wrestling at Wawasee. His head coaches were Neal Frantz, Randy Aalbregtse and John Blunk on the diamond, Troy Akers and Gene Mitz on the gridiron, Gary Goshert on the court and Scott DeHart on the mat.
At Goshen (Ind.) College, Salazar played three seasons for Maple Leafs head coach DeVon Hoffman and one for Todd Bacon (who is Kameron’s head coach at Marian), switching from shortstop to third base as a freshman.
DeVon was a stickler for details. He wanted to make sure we did things correctly all the time. The little things matter.
Bacon was very young then. He kept the same things going.
Salazar earned a Business degree from Goshen in 1998.
Joe, who is married to Yvonne Salazar, also has two older stepchildren — Riley Weber and Ashley Weber.

Joe Salazar

Hardy counts honesty, positivity among core values for Pioneer Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Hardy is in his first season as head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind.

The core values that Hardy teaches to his Panthers were borrowed from his college football coach, Colin Bruton of Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wis.

They are honesty, selflessness, relentlessness, competitiveness and positivity.

“On the baseball side, we stress offense and being aggressive,” says Hardy. “We’ve got to score runs to win games.”

A 2012 graduate of Logansport (Ind.) High School where he won two letters each in football, wrestling and baseball, Hardy credits two former Berries head baseball coaches — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Turner Sr. plus Jim Turner Jr. — as well as current Logansport bench boss Dan Frye, Craig Crozier and Jon Vernon for adding to his diamond knowledge.

“I’ve learned that the main thing is to be patient with players and even other coaches,” says Hardy. “And to study the game.”

Hardy has received plenty of pointers from Turner Sr., on how to run a practice.

Prior to taking over the Pioneer program, Hardy coached in the Logansport Lookouts travel organization.

In Hardy’s first season, Pioneer has 32 players for varsity and junior varsity squads. 

Assistant coaches include Jacob Hardy (Josh’s younger brother), Cory Harmon, Darrell Couch and Miles VonTobel.

Jacob Hardy, who played baseball at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind., works with pitchers and catcher. He is a Logansport alum as are Harmon and Couch. VonTobel is a 2020 Pioneer graduate.

Pioneer (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Caston, Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Triton and Winamac).

HNAC teams play each other twice — usually on back-to-back weekdays or in Saturday doubleheaders.

Following this format places an emphasis on pitching depth rather than riding one arm to a conference championship.

“We’re fortunate to have a pretty decent amount of arms,” says Hardy. 

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston (the 2021 host), Northfield, North Miami, North White, Southwood and West Central. Pioneer won its lone sectional crown in 2016.

Pioneer’s home field is on-campus. There are plans to add a new batting cage and to improve the playing surface.

The Panthers’ program is fed by the middle school (one seventh/eighth grade team) plus the Pioneer Youth League in Royal Center and a Pioneer team in the Logansport Babe Ruth League.

Hardy earned a business management degree from Lakeland in 2016 followed by a masters in business in 2018. He also helped coach the Muskies when his four years as a pass catcher were done.

He now teaches business and computer science at Pioneer while also assisting head football coach Adam Berry. 

The Panthers are 64-5 over the past five gridiron seasons with a state runner-up finish in 2016, state championships in 2017 and 2018 and a regional crown in 2020.

Josh Hardy (right) is head baseball coach at Pioneer Junior-Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind. One of his assistant is brother Jacob Hardy (left).

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Turner taking nothing for granted as Indiana Tech assistant

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com 

Gordon Turner grew up in Anderson, Ind., with athletic ambition.

Turner played at Anderson High School, where he graduated in 2005, then two seasons at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., before transferring to Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. He played one season (2009) on the field with the Warriors before an injury and spent eligibility put an end to the middle infielder’s playing career.

“I’m not going to lie, I cried,” says Turner. “It hurt.”

But the next day Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams asked Turner to join the coaching staff. He’s been there ever since. The 2021 season is his 11th. It’s Williams’ 14th leading the Warriors program.

“Once you’re done playing, you can always spread the knowledge of the game to somebody else and make them better,” says Turner — aka GT. “I’ve got the privilege to be a college coach. Not everyone gets that opportunity. 

“I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Turner calls McWilliams the “heart and soul” of the Indiana Tech program and somebody who is always learning something new about baseball and passing it along.

“I’ve learned a lot from Coach Mac,” says Turner. “He has changed the culture. He looks into (recruiting) high-character guys who are coachable. He’s done a great job over the years. 

“It’s nothing but positivity. It’s a great environment. He’s got his standards and he holds his players and coaches to them.”

Indiana Tech has varsity and developmental players and the NAIA program typically carries a large roster that has counted as many as 65 players.

Turner is the head reserve coach and leads that team in games against NAIA, NCAA and NJCAA competition. 

But while some might be varsity and other junior varsity, all Tech players are on equal footing.

“We try to keep our guys involved,” say Turner. “Our developmental guys practicing with varsity. We keep them on the same page. We don’t want anybody to lose focus.

“It’s like family. You don’t want to leave nobody out.”

Turner notes that 2016 first-team NAIA All-American Brian Hakes started out on the developmental roster.

Tech has begun its 2021 season. A typical week at this time of the year means taking Monday off if the Warriors are coming off a weekend series. This gives players a chance to rest and to catch up with their studies.

There are sometimes mid-week games with practices to fix flaws and stay sharp.

“We try to get outside as much as possible,” says Turner. “Sometimes we use the turf soccer field and field fly balls and ground balls and do PFP (Pitcher’s Fielding Practice). 

“We work on anything (the coaching staff says) we need to work on.”

There’s also in-seaon weight lifting to maintain strength. 

Once the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference season starts, there are intense weekend series.

“It’s a grind for 55 games as a northern team,” says Turner. 

In the off-season, Turner has worked at camps both at Tech and other places.

He is also a substitute teacher in Fort Wayne Community Schools. This year, was at Lakeside Middle School, where cousin Alan Jones (who played basketball at Muncie Central High School and Taylor University and earned his masters degree at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) is the principal. 

Turner, who received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana Tech in 2012, has taught multiple subjects, but favorite is social studies.

“There’s something about geography,” says Turner. “Show me a place and I’ll show you 10 different ways to get there.”

Turner has also helped Tech players in graduate school to get substitute teaching jobs.

Terry Turner, who has won two IHSAA state titles at Daleville (2016 and 2018), was the Anderson head coach when GT played for the AHS Indians.

“T-Squared — that’s what we call him — was very laid-back,” says Gordon Turner. “If he saw senior had leadership and were taking control of the team, he let it happen. He let us play our game.”

That doesn’t mean the veteran coach did not have control.

“He was holding guys accountable,” says Turner. “If you show up, he’s going to let you know.”

Turner played with some talented players at AHS. In his class was Michael Lucas (who went on to Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University) and Zane Sparks (who played at Kishwaukee and is now with the Anderson Police Department). A year ahead of Turner and his classmates was Brandon Meadows (who played at Anderson University).

Michael Earley, a Class of 2007 graduate, went on to play at Indiana University and in pro ball  is now on the coaching staff at Arizona State University.

Turner played at Kishwaukee for Josh Pethoud (now an assistant at Northern Illinois University).

“You really had to be tough to play for him,” says Turner. He had a lot of passion for the game and he knew how to accelerate guys’ games. 

“He was very intense, Off the field, he’d give you the shirt off his back. I had a very good relationship with that guy.”

Turner values relationships.

“There’s trust in knowing someone has your back at all times,” says Turner. “There’s someone to help you out during struggles.”

Since he was 15, Turner has occupied parts of his summer playing fast pitch softball. In recent years, he’s been with Anderson-based Diamond In The Rough.

Two nephews have excelled in sports. Lawrence North High School graduate Harold Jones is on the football team at Ball State. LN senior Anthony Hughes is a two-time IHSAA Wrestling State Finals qualifier.  

Turner lives in Fort Wayne with girlfriend Shelby Knepper. Together, they have a daughter — Aria Grace Knepper-Turner (2).

Tuesday, March 2 would have been Charles Turner’s 67th birthday. Gordon’s father died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 16, 2018 — about a month before his daughter was born.

“Before he passed away he told me that he was proud of me,” says Gordon. “I’m trying to be a better man as every day comes.”

Gordon Turner is in his 11th season as an Indiana Tech baseball assistant coach in 2021. The Tech graduate is in charge of the Warriors reserves. (Indiana Tech Photo)

Hester takes the wheel for Charlestown Pirates

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A familiar face is now in charge of the Charlestown (Ind.) High School baseball program. 

Brian Hester, a 1987 Charlestown graduate who served nine seasons as an assistant to former head coach Ricky Romans (who led CHS baseball for 17 years) and the past five with Southern Indiana Rawlings Tigers travel organization, is now leading the Pirates on the diamond.

“Ricky has an amazing passion for the game,” says Hester, who came back on board at Charlestown in December. “He loves the game. He studies the game.”

Hester played high school baseball for Mike Hall.

“He was caring with his players,” says Hester. “I could go to him for anything I needed.

“He’s one of the reasons I started teaching and got into coaching.”

After one season playing for Rick Parr at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Hester concentrated on his studies. He is now a Robotics teacher at Charlestown Middle School after beginning his professional life as a mechanical engineer. He also serves on the Charlestown City Council.

Hester calls Parr one of the greatest hitting instructors he’s ever been around.

The former Boston Red Sox minor leaguer had a knack for breaking down the swing and bringing out the best in a hitter.

“Coming out of high school I was mainly a pull hitter,” says Hester. “He opened up my eyes to using the whole field and being a multi-faceted hitter.

“He was one of the very first guys I heard talk about letting the ball travel deep into the (strike) zone.”

Hester says that by letting the ball travel, the hitter can see it a little deeper and can still generate bat speed and power to the opposite field while opening up the defense.

Another coach to have an impact on Hester is Larry Owens, who played for rival Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Poole when Hester was playing and is now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The two have since worked the same camps.

“Larry is charismatic and has a contagious baseball mind,” says Hester.

Hester, who followed his baseball playing career, by traveling all over the country competing in top-flight slow pitch softball tournaments, has his Charlestown players competing during IHSAA Limited Contact Period winter workouts.

“We compete internally all the time,” says Hester. “I have a good group of (10) seniors who love hard work and competing.”

Hester has been getting his Pirates to understand what it means to have love and passion for the game and and enjoying being on the team.

“A lot of that comes from Larry Owens,” says Hester.

Expecting around 24 players in the program this spring, Hester and assistants Bryan Glover, Tony Kailen, George Roberts and Brady Hester will lead a program in varsity and junior varsity competition. Of the five coaches, only Kailen is not a Charlestown graduate.

The site of the Pirates baseball field is the same that Hester knew as a player, but the facility was totally overhauled almost a decade ago.

The former practice football field was turned into a softball field and now baseball and softball share not only a hitting building but a walkway and common area with a concession stand between the two diamonds.

“There’s great energy for our games,” says Hester. 

Charlestown (enrollment around 715) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Charlestown has won two sectional titles — 1999 and 2009.

Non-conference games on the 2021 schedule include Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Jennings County, Lanesville, New Washington, Perry Central and South Central (Elizabeth).

Invitees to the May 15 Charlestown Invitational include Boonville, Lebanon and Providence.

While Hester was a Charlestown assistant he helped establish middle school baseball. Not affiliated with the school system, games are played during the spring. This year, Hester expects one team of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. 

Another feeder for CHS baseball is Charlestown Little League

There is no travel organization solely-dedicated to Charlestown players and Hester would like to see that change. 

Greater Clark County Schools includes Charlestown and Jeffersonville. Silver Creek School Corporation is nearby.

Recent Charlestown graduates on college baseball teams include right-handed pitchers Andrew Snider (Morehead, Ky., State University) and Drew Fifer (Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill.).

Two current seniors — right-handed pitcher Eric Wigginton (Spalding University in Louisville) and utility infielder Matthew McCoy (Hanover, Ind., College) — have made college baseball commitments.

Two others from the Class of 2021 weighing their options are catcher Nathaniel Kimbrell and right-handed pitcher Jacob Glover.

Ronni Hester, Brian’s wife, is in retail management. Brian and Ronni have three sons — Brady (22), Dalton (18) and Boomer (13) plus one grandson. Dalton Hester is a Charlestown senior. Boomer Hester is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball, wrestling and baseball with the middle school team and the Rawlings Tigers.

Brian Hester, a 1987 Charlestown (Ind.) High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He was a Pirates assistant for nine years on the staff of Ricky Romans and coached the past five with the Southern Indiana Rawlings Tigers travel organization.

Hard work, fun mix for Richards, Garrett Railroaders

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and amusement don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Not the way Garrett (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Jason Richards sees it.

“I do demand a lot from my players,” says Richards, who spent a decade of coaching in the Railroaders softball program then took over the baseball post prior to the 2020 season which was taken away by COVID-19. “At the same time, baseball has to still be fun for everybody.

“We want to still work hard for our goals.”

Richards was a softball assistant to Scott Bishop for eight seasons before leading the Garrett team in 2018 and 2019.

“(Bishop) demands perfection,” says Richards. “You’re only going to get that through hard work.”

Prior to Garrett, Richards was a baseball assistant at Central Noble for head coach Jim Sickafoose and baseball assistant Eastside for head coach Jason Pierce.

Richards says Sickafoose has an “old school” way of doing things.

“We had a good team,” says Richards, who helped the Cougars win an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title and compete in the Whiting Regional in 2012. “(Coach Sickafoose) wanted to get the most out of everything you can do each day.

“(Coach Pierce) brought a fire for the game. He kept the kids on their toes, letting them know they can’t just go through the motions.”

A 1996 Churubusuco (Ind.) High School graduate, Richards played for Mark Grove.

“(Coach Grove) demanded perfection and hard work,” says Richards. “He was no-nonsense.”

Before class baseball, ‘Busco won Warsaw Sectional and Plymouth Regional crowns and competed in the Fort Wayne Semistate championship against eventual state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium in 1995. 

Richards went on to be a student at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, where he earned a Education degree with a focus on middle school Social Studies and Science and later gained a School Counseling masters from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

An attendee of several coaching clinics, Richards likes to run an organized practice. 

Everyday players show up they know everything is thought out and in a certain order.

“Anything after 2 1/2 hours and you start to see bad habits,” says Richards. “In 1 1/2 hours, we can get in there, word hard, get good habits formed and have fun.”

Garrett (enrollment around 580) is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). NECC teams play each other once apiece plus there’s a conference tournament.

“I hope we have a season,” says Richards. “I think we have a lot to look forward to.

“We should be competitive in a really competitive NECC.”

The Railroaders are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Leo and New Haven. Garrett has won three sectional titles — the last in 1973. In recent years, the Railroaders have been rotating as a sectional and regional host.

At its size, the multi-sport athlete is the norm at Garrett. Many baseball players are on the football team and Richards is an assistant in program led by Chris DePew. That means Garrett had just a few participate in practices during fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period for baseball.

Winter workouts — bat and ball activities plus speed and agility and weight work — have regularly been drawing about 17 with the others involved in winter sports. Richards expects to have around 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Last March, Garrett was two days away from its first official day of practice when the pandemic caused a shutdown and loss of the 2020 season.

“What a crazy year,” says Richards. “We had like four kids play travel ball last year and no (Garrett Youth Baseball for ages 5-16). 

“COVID can really hurt a small program.”

A third year as a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School (he was a science teacher prior to that), Richards gets to see student-athletes grow and mature for six years — grades 7-12.

“I build a relationship with them in middle school and earn that trust,” says Richards. “In high school, we get them what they need.”

Richards counts Rudy Fuentes as a varsity assistant coach for 2021. Other assistants are Clay Evans, Steve Orth, Bobby York and Cody Camp. Joe Fuentes (Rudy’s son) is GYB president.

The youth league will base its draft on performance at camps held at the high school in February.

“We work really well together,” says Richards of the accord between GHS and GYB.

Garrett graduate Tristan Taylor is a freshman on the baseball roster at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. Current Railroaders senior Gage Smith is expected to make a college baseball commitment and a number of juniors also have college diamond aspirations.

Jason and wife Emily Richards have three children — Kierra (19), Trey (16) and Brady (8). Kierra Richards is a softball player and Exercise Science major at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Trey Richards is a junior football and baseball players at Garrett. Third grader Brady Richards, who tuns 9 next week, is involved in football, wrestling and baseball.

Jason Richards is head baseball coach at Garrett (Ind.) High School. He is also a guidance counselor at Garrett Middle School.