Archive for June 27, 2012

LARRY LEGEND OUT, DONNIE WALSH IN AS PACERS PRESIDENT

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers announced Wednesday changes in the basketball front office. Larry Bird, President of Basketball Operations for the last nine years, will step down, former team President Donnie Walsh returns as President of Basketball Operations, and Kevin Pritchard will be the General Manager, replacing David Morway, who resigned Tuesday.

“I fully understand Larry’s decision to step away and can’t thank him enough for what he has done for the Pacers,” said Pacers Owner Herb Simon. “I can’t ask for a better transition at this time than to have Donnie back to work with Kevin in overseeing the basketball side.”

“I’m going to take some time off and evaluate what I will do in the future,” said Bird. “This has nothing to do with any conflict or anything else, it’s just time. I considered leaving last year, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, I like the position this team is in and with Kevin and Donnie, the basketball side won’t miss a beat.”

Walsh left the Pacers in 2008 to serve as President, Basketball Operations, for the New York Knicks for two years. He was a consultant with the Knicks last season. Walsh was the Pacers’ General Manager from 1986-88 before becoming the franchise president from 1988-2008.

“After discussing this with Herb and Larry, I’m very comfortable in coming back and doing whatever I can to help the Pacers continue their return to prominence in the NBA,” said Walsh. “This is home in so many ways and I couldn’t be more proud about coming back and being part of this great franchise again.”

Pritchard joined the Pacers prior to last season as Director of Player Personnel. The native Hoosier (born in Bloomington, Ind.) was Portland’s general manager from 2007-10 prior to joining the Pacers.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Pritchard. “To be able to work with someone like Donnie Walsh, whose record with the Pacers and Knicks speaks for itself, and to continue to build on what Larry has done here is a great honor.”

There will be no other management changes in Pacers Sports & Entertainment with Simon continuing as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jim Morris as President and Rick Fuson as Chief Operating Officer.

(Courtesy of the Indiana Pacers)

PERFECTION REVISITED: H.P. McPIKE TAKES HOME BACK-TO-BACK CITY CROWNS

H.P. McPike of UCT won its second straight David A. Kasey championship. (Photo by: WILLIAM GIBSON)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Back-to-back. Two-in-a-row. Unblemished. Dynasty. All of those terms were thrown around the South Side Cal Ripken League diamond as baseball fans debated where H.P. McPike belongs in the 56-year history of the annual Howard County baseball tournament. On June 21, McPike of UCT downed Russiaville’s Lion’s Club 4-2 to claim the David A. Kasey Memorial Howard County Youth Baseball Tournament championship (sponsored by the Kokomo Tribune), the Ralph Stewart Insurance trophy, and a second consecutive undefeated 29-0 season. And in the process, the debate started on where this team belongs in local baseball lore.

“This is what our 12 year-olds wanted – to go out on top,” said McPike manager Jason Hurlock after the county title game. “I don’t know about history, I guess that is pretty cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet. We talked to the kids before the game, and I never really thought about it. I guess it really doesn’t happen very often – a team going undefeated to win the (county) championship. And we won it two times in a row. Wow!”

McPike is the second repeat champion to hail from UCT and the first to go back-to-back in more than 20 years. This group of 11 talented youngsters joins an elite group that includes Schwinn (SS) in 1989-1990, Stellite (SS) in 1971-1972, Nationals (NS) in 1964-1965, and the first repeat champs, UCT’s Coca-Cola in 1958-1959.

“It really didn’t come up during the season,” said Hurlock. “It was a pretty easy run during the regular season, so there really wasn’t the pressure of having to win to keep the streak alive. I am just grateful to be around such a great group of players, coaches and parents.”

McPike ends its two-year domination of Howard County with a pair of Kasey titles, two league championships and a 58-game winning streak. It has been so dominant in the Kasey tourney that McPike pitchers have yielded just 15 runs in its last 12 tournament games, while its offense has produced 148 tallies. This season, McPike won its first 23 games by the 10-run rule and scored (and won by) double-digits in every game except the title bout against the strong pitching of the Lion’s Club.

Much like last year’s title game when McPike defeated White’s Meat Market of Russiaville 4-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, this was battle from start to finish. With more than 1,000 fans surrounding the 200-foot diamond, an early pitchers dual erupted as McPike’s Jack Perkins struck out six batters in the first two innings and LC’s Tyler Knepley whiffed four – leaving the game scoreless after two.

In top of the third, Conner Allen was hit by a Perkins pitch, took second and third on wild pitches, and scored the game’s first run on a Cooper O’Neal ground out. But McPike roared right back as Nate Hemmerich – who had the game-winning hit a year ago – rocked a no-doubt home run into the left field crowd to tie the game after three innings.

“It was a relief when Nate hit that home run,” said McPike assistant coach Scott Perkins. “You never know how kids will react in a close game, and we made the best of the situation.”

The tie didn’t last long as Lion’s Club No. 3 hitter Sebastian Olson produced a bunt single and scored when clean-up hitter Luke Lushin singled. Nolan Starkey then reached, and Lushin and Starkey advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. But Perkins regained his composure and mowed down the next three batters to get out of a two-on, no-out jam.

“That was big, getting those three strikeouts,” said Hurlock. “It shows how tough a pitcher Jack is.”

McPike took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth inning. Perkins reached first on an infield single and reached third on a bang-bang play following a throwing error. Noah Hurlock then ripped a shot to the right field fence, and by the time the ball reached home plate, Hurlock had rounded the bases for an inside-the-park home run and the eventual game-winning run.

Perkins pitched the fifth inning, yielding to Hurlock who closed the door on the Lion’s Club with three, sixth inning strikeouts.

Perkins earned legendary status himself as he appeared in his second straight Kasey championship game, giving up two runs on three hits while striking out 12 to grab the win. Opponents will be glad Perkins is a 12 year-old and moving on to a higher level of play. In two championship game appearances, he has pitched 10 innings, earning a pair of victories while registering 20 strikeouts, six hits and just two earned runs. He also had a home run and a double in last year’s championship game.

“We knew it would be a tough game, I mean Russiaville is a tough league with three teams in the Final Four,” said Scott Perkins, who doubled as the proud father of the winning pitcher. “Their pitchers did an awesome job. We knew it was going to be a pitchers game going in. But our kids never backed down and they haven’t backed down in two years. It is sad it is over for our 12 year-olds – it was a great run. Yes, I am proud of Jack.”

After the game, Lion’s Club head coach Shannon Knepley praised his team’s efforts, and acknowledged the strength of the two-time champions.

“I don’t think many people besides us thought we had a chance in this game, and rightfully so because they are very talented and are great kids,” said Knepley. “But our guys came out and fought and pitched really well. We held them at bay and came up with great opportunities to score. I am proud of them. We set a goal to be here, and we made it. We never got rattled – a base hit and things could have gone differently.

“But again, my hat goes off to them. It is really hard to go two years without a loss and stay focused every time you go out. That team will be one to remember – they are solid and are tough outs from one through nine.”

And thus the debate begins on where the 2011 and 2012 H.P. McPike teams will stand in the long and strong history of Howard County youth baseball. But one thing that cannot be debated is the fact they are a two-time Howard County champion. They have taken on all-comers for two years and sent every team home with a loss. That is an amazing run for an amazing team.

STATE CHAMPIONS: WESTERN LAYS CLAIM TO FIRST BASEBALL TITLE

WESTERN PANTHERS - IHSAA CLASS 3A STATE BASEBALL CHAMPIONS

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For complete coverage of Western’s state championship, see the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana. If you don’t receive the Sports Journal, request your free subscription today.)

INDIANAPOLIS – One week ago, Western head coach Ty Calloway explained the Panthers team motto of “never give up” came from a famous Winston Churchill commencement speech. He said after the team got off to a 6-7 start to the season, they needed to regroup and not give up on the year. Calloway will need to change the wording to “never gave up” as his squad dominated the Brebeuf Jesuit Braves 8-1 at Victory Field to win the school’s first-ever IHSAA Class 3A state baseball championship.

“What can I say, we are elated,” said a smiling Calloway after the game. “I give credit to these kids because they really battled. We got off to a rocky start this year, but we battled back and we are now playing as a team.”

The Panthers wasted little time in flexing their muscle, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning off Notre Dame recruit Connor Hale. Marcus Pingleton led the game off with a walk, Adam Bolen singled and Evan Warden ripped a double down the third base line to give the Black Attack a quick 2-0 lead. After Dakota LaMott was hit by a pitch, Austin LaFollette doubled down the right field line and it was a 4-0 Panther lead.

“We got some good hits there, like we did against Bellmont,” said Calloway, who picked up his first state title after 640 career wins. “We came out a little bit hot, and when you do that, you take some pressure off your pitcher – and that is what we wanted to do.”

And the lack of pressure was appreciated by starting pitcher Ronnie Smith, who threw five innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. The Braves did not score its run until the fifth inning and Smith struck out four and walked three as he picked up his tenth – and most important – win of the season. He left the game after five innings, throwing 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes.

“I felt good coming into the game,” said the 6-foot-6 junior righty. “I struggled in getting strikes the last game, but I adjusted tonight. Coming into here (Victory Field) – you can’t even find the catcher’s glove with the crowd behind him. But you get in your zone and just play the game and I felt like I was able to get in a groove.”

Calloway was happy with the way his pitcher responded to the atmosphere.

Ronnie did a nice job,” said the hall of fame coach. “We talked (before the game) about Ronnie needing to get us at least four (innings) and then bring Evan (Warden) in. But he got us five innings tonight.”

Warden agreed with Smith about the way the team felt before the game. The young sophomore – who pitched the final two innings and had a double, triple and two RBIs at the plate – said the team was relaxed and ready to play.

“I can’t explain this feeling I am so happy,” he said. “We were relaxed before the game. Even before we got to the game we knew we would be up to speed – we knew we would be ready to play. I mean getting here is one thing, but we wanted to win.”

Calloway added about the pre-game mood: “I wasn’t really nervous at all tonight – I felt good vibes before the game.”

Longtime assist coach Dwight Singer has paced hundreds of coaching boxes, waiting for the chance to have an IHSAA medal draped around his neck.

“This is for all of the boys in the past who have come close and couldn’t get the brass ring,” he said. “This fulfills a lot of dreams and was a long-time coming.

LaFollette, whose first inning double may have spelled the end for Brebeuf, was nearly speechless after the trophy presentation.

“It is so surreal; I can’t believe this happened,” he said. “Last year, we were projected to go and didn’t. But we fought through adversary this year and won it. I am so happy for Ronnie and Evan; they threw a great game. We just hit the ball when we needed it and it felt good.”

Indiana high school state champions! Yep, that should feel good.

(This story is just the beginning. See the June 19 issue of the Sports Journal for stories on catcher Kyle Ennis, head coach Ty Calloway, the complete championship box score and nearly two dozen full-color photos.)