Archive for February 13, 2017

KOKOMO JACKRABBITS NAME GARY McCLURE AS NEW MANAGER, ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES RETURN TO MUNICIPAL STADIUM

Kokomo Jackrabbits 1

UPDATED: This story has been updated to state the league will not play an actual All-Star Game but rather Kokomo will host all-star festivities.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – For the third time in three seasons, the Kokomo Jackrabbits are hiring a new field manager – but this time for a good reason. After the first manager was fired after 30 games, Matt Howard took over for the next year-and-a-half and led the squad to the Prospect League playoffs. Now, Howard is the inaugural Indiana University Kokomo head coach and the Rabbits are ready for a new era – and this time, they are looking to a seasoned bench veteran.

On Feb. 13, the Jackrabbits ownership group announced several changes for the 2017 season while introducing former Austin Peay State University head coach Gary McClure as the Jackrabbits new skipper. The group also announced that with its expansion from the Milwaukee area to other locales – including Kokomo and Lafayette – they have changed its name from MKE Sports and Entertainment to ROC Ventures.

“We’ve enjoyed a tremendous relationship with the people of Kokomo ever since bringing the Kokomo Jackrabbits to town,” said Mike Zimmerman, owner of ROC Ventures. “It all began with citizens choosing the name of the team. When you create things that bring people together, it creates community and further opportunities for all. We’ve based all of our activity here on that basic formula – return on community.”

MKE was a direct reference to Milwaukee and the airport code for the cities General Mitchell International Airport (much like IND for Indianapolis). With the MKE Sports and Entertainment becoming more regionally known, it was time for the change to better identity its purpose. Zimmerman’s ROC Ventures is named to remind everyone of the thread unifying all of ROC’s projects: Create value by creating and strengthening community opportunities.

“It’s become more and more clear to us that developing and helping create a real ‘deep economy’ locally is the key to lasting success for the entire surrounding region,” Zimmerman said. “That’s the principle behind ‘return on community,’ and that’s our commitment.”

The first big announcement of ROC Ventures was the naming of McClure as the leader of the Jackrabbits. The longtime NCAA Division I head coach at Austin Peay (Clarksville, Tennessee) is the winningest coach in Ohio Valley Conference history. While leading the Governors from 1988-2015 (28 seasons), McClure compiled a record of 847-750, with a 363-276 record in conference play.

“I’d like to thank Mike Zimmerman for this amazing opportunity,” said McClure. “I look forward to not only shaping our young players into professionals but also becoming an integral part of the community with my wife Amy.”

McClure is already a member of the Austin Peay Athletics Hall of Fame and 38 of his players were selected into the Major League Baseball Draft. His squads won a conference record five OVC regular season titles and five OVT tourney titles. He coached 49 first-team All-OVC players, nine conference Pitchers of the Year and three conference Players of the Year. Last season, he coached the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League

McClure and his wife, Amy, have been married for nearly three decades and have one son, Alex, a scout for the Chicago Cubs, who played in the Royals and Marlins minor league systems.

“This guy’s baseball IQ and coaching talent is off the charts,” said Dan Kuenzi, president of ROC Ventures Sports and Performance. “We’re getting a pro who operates at an extremely high level, and the players are going to appreciate the excellence he brings to his job.”

All-star festivities and more in Kokomo

After rain washed out most of the 2016 Prospect League All-Star Game in Kokomo, the Jackrabbits announced a reformatted event would return to the City of Firsts on July 17. While the league moves away from an actual game, all-star festivities will include a Home Run Derby and a professional scout workout for league players at Municipal Stadium.

“This is an event that brings deserved attention to the Kokomo community, as well as a nice economic boost,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. “We’re proud to once again have been selected as host.”

Last year, the Home Run Derby was a major success with baseballs being sent off the scoreboard, into the Wildcat Creek and across Apperson Way. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate with the All-Star Game as rain stopped action on the turf before a complete game could be declared. Howard was the skipper for the West Division and 10 Jackrabbits have dressed for the All-Star Game in two seasons, including 2015 ASG Most Valuable Player Mark Zimmerman.

In a move that should make fans happy, Kuenzi said ticket prices would remain unchanged for the 2017 Jackrabbits campaign and several special events are planned, much like in the first two seasons.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 14 edition of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana

KOKOMO MANTIS ANNOUNCE SOCCER SQUAD WILL TAKE 2017 OFF, REORGANIZE INTO A NEW LEAGUE

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BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – The Kokomo soccer community was excited when the ownership group of the Kokomo Jackrabbits announced that it would add a soccer squad to its stable and play games in Kokomo Municipal Stadium in 2016. But after a mixed-results first year, ROC Ventures announced the Kokomo Mantis FC would take a year off from competition to reorganize and move to a new league.

“While we put the 2017 season on hold, I am happy to announce that all other aspects of the Kokomo Mantis FC will continue as preparation for 2018,” said ROC Ventures, Sports and Performance President Dan Kuenzi. “We are currently in talks with the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) about the 2018 season at Municipal Stadium.”

The Mantis played in the Premier Development League’s Heartland Division last year, finishing 4-6-4 with quality wins over PDL powers Des Moines Menace and Chicago Fire United. But the PDL schedule proved challenging – after two home matches on May 20 and 23, the squad did not return home until mid-June, losing a lot of momentum to develop a fan-base. Then, the Mantis played three games over the Fourth of July holiday weekend when many fans were out-of-town.

Add in a long two-game, 2,200-mile round-trip through Canada and the Mantis schedule become a scheduling and financial issue.

Fortunately for soccer fans, Kuenzi said ROC Ventures is dedicated to keeping the most popular sport in the world in Kokomo and will reorganize into a different league. The group is in talks to move to the National Premier Soccer League, with plans for the Mantis to take the turf pitch in 2018 after a PDL-mandated one-year non-compete clause is complete.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 14 edition of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana

NORTHWESTERN LADY TIGERS END BASKETBALL SEASON IN ELITE EIGHT

Northwestern seniors Sophia Beachy, Brianna Hahn and Beza Townsend accept the regional runners-up game ball. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

Northwestern seniors Sophia Beachy, Brianna Hahn and Beza Townsend accept the regional runners-up game ball. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

RENSSELAER, Ind. – A year before many envisioned, a young corps of Northwestern Lady Tigers swept through a talented field, won its first game of the Rensselaer Central Regional and found itself in the Elite Eight. With two senior starters and a crop of up-and-comers, No. 5 Northwestern mounted a furious fourth quarter rally before coming one-step short of the Final Four in a 57-49 loss to No. 2 South Bend St. Joseph in the regional title game.

“We are a young team, and obviously, this is the regional for all of them,” said Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden. “And I thought we started out that way; we got off to a slow start.”

After a relatively easy 67-41 opening game win over Gary Lighthouse CPA, the Tigers regrouped to battle a seasoned St. Joe squad in the championship game. But the Indians came out of the gate hot, hitting four 3-pointers to grab a 14-6 lead after the first eight minutes. Defense ruled the second quarter with the Tigers finding themselves in a 22-14 deficit at the break.

“Defense is what got us here,” said Layden. “I told them to focus on the defense, and I thought they did a good job.”

St. Joe owned the third quarter, and many thought the game was over when the Indians led 42-26 early in the final stanza. Despite being young – four freshmen and sophomores see significant action – Northwestern roared to life, scoring 17 of the games next 20 points to trip the lead to 45-43 with three minutes left. The defense forced six Indians turnovers while sophomore Taylor Boruff dropped in 12 points on offense. Freshman Madison Layden chipped in 11 fourth quarter points.

The Tigers (24-4) scheme took a blow when 6-foot-1 freshman center Kendall Bostic, who scored 12 in the game, fouled out with 2:46 remaining. The rally then ended when St. Joe’s Nicole Konieczny hit the Indians 10th 3-pointer of the game with 2:15 left. St. Joe (24-2) then hit 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory and a trip to the Class 3A Final Four.

Boruff led the Tigers with 16 points while Layden added 15.

While the loss was the end of the road for seniors Sophia Beachy, Brianna Hahn and Beza Townsend, the path is just starting for the rest of the young Tigers. After playing in the programs fifth regional, they now know what it will take to make it all the way to Indianapolis.

Tigers win game one

In the opener against Lighthouse CPA, the Tigers hit 3 of its first 20 shots and trailed 10-9 after one quarter. The rims warmed up for Northwestern, and 16 minutes later they were up 49-29 while cruising to the win.

Bostic had a monster game with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Layden added 11 points while Boruff dropped in eight.

Douglas Hockney contributed to this story