Archive for April 25, 2017

CLASS 4A NO. 5 KOKOMO STARTS SEASON A PERFECT 12-0

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Three times last weekend the Kokomo Wildkats baseball team found themselves in a hole. And three times they found a way to pull off a victory.  The result of a 3-0 weekend was a perfect start for the Class 4A No. 5 (April 24 coaches poll) Wildkats and a 12-0 record midway through the campaign.

“To get off to a 12-0 start is really a testament to the kids buying into the team concept and believing in one another,” said Kokomo head coach Sean Swan. “You don’t get to those points without a lot of contributions from a lot of guys.”

On April 21, Kokomo found itself down to 3A No. 6 Western (7-2) in the second inning. Kaleb Howard led the inning for the Panthers with a double, Tyler Burthay was hit by a pitch, Reagan Carter laid down a sacrifice bunt and Pat Mills ripped an RBI single. After a strikeout, number nine hitter Cooper O’Neal laced a two-run single for a 3-0 lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Western gave the Kats a run back – Noah Hurlock was hit by a Brodee Lipinski pitch, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a fielding error.

Western scored an unearned run off Wildkat starter Bayden Root thanks to a pair of fielding errors and led 4-1 going to the bottom of the fourth. With freshman Connor Linn taking the hill for the Panthers, Quamielle Belt ripped a one-out single, DaShawn Barbary followed with a single and junior Nate Hemmerich loaded the bases after getting hit with a pitch. Following a strikeout, Jack Perkins cleared the bases with a triple to tie the game. He scored on a wild pitch to give the Wildkats a 5-4 lead.

Western could not take advantage of two more Kokomo errors in the fifth inning and left the bases stranded. Root then took over and retired the last six Panther hitters in order to secure the 5-4 win in front of the largest regular season high school crowd in Kokomo Municipal Stadium history – estimated at 900 strong.

The next day, Kokomo swept a doubleheader against Warsaw, 6-2 and 4-3. Hemmerich was the star of the day in both come-from-behind wins. The junior picked up the complete game win in game one (six hits, one earned run, four strikeouts) and had a walk-off single in game two to score Kenny Burton after the backup catcher had doubled to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Hemmerich was 3 for 4 and reached in all four at-bats in game two; he also scored twice in game one. Kyle Wade had a sixth inning two-run double and Perkins had an RBI double in the nightcap.

“When guys like Burton can come in and produce when they don’t get much playing time is important,” said Swan. “Some of our bench guys were huge last Saturday and again today. Getting contributions from guys across the board will be huge for us down the road. Good teams find ways to win.”

Baseball fans have been following this group of Kokomo High School athletes for years. Three of those are junior pitchers who are all NCAA Division I prospects. And while the young talent took time to adjust to the varsity level (26-28 in first two seasons), they are gelling this year as Kokomo stands atop the North Central Conference West Division with a 6-0 record.

“I think a lot of it has to do with maturity,” said Swan. “They were kind of thrown to the wolves as freshmen and sophomores – they had to learn on the job. Most kids their age were playing junior varsity and learning the job, but we asked these guys to jump right in and wins games. They took their lumps, but I think the lessons they learned are starting to pay off now.”

Wade, an uncommitted junior, has been sensational this year on the hill. In four appearances, he is 3-0 with one save and a perfect ERA of 0.00. He has thrown two complete game shutouts and has given up just nine hits in 17 1/3 innings with two walks and 17 strikeouts. He is batting .324 with 11 RBI’s and scored the game-winning run against Logansport.

“What Kyle has done the last two weeks is pretty special,” said Swan.

Root, a junior with a verbal commitment to South Carolina, is 3-0 with 22 strikeouts in 15 innings. Classmate Jack Perkins (verbal commitment to Louisville) is 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA and  24 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched – his fastball was also clocked at 96 miles per hour by scouts at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. And while Wade, Root and Perkins have scouts following them, Hemmerich is 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA and a pair of complete game efforts. Freshman Charez Butcher is also earning limited playing time and has been clocked by scouts at 93 mph. Brian Harding (Rock Valley College signee) is 1-0 with a 1.11 ERA.

“We are extremely deep,” said Swan. “We are very fortunate in regard to the number of quality arms we can put out there on the mound. That bodes well for us.”

Swan said Kokomo’s wins are not always easy – as noted in last weekend’s three-game sweep.

“We have won in a variety of ways,” said Swan. “We got off to the quick start against Riley and played well against Jeff. I told the guys we would have some challenges; Harrison and Logansport were.”

While pitching is the focal point of the Kats success, Swan noted the improved hitting for Kokomo. Thus far, the Wildkats have improved its team batting average from .265 last year to .333 this season. A trio of seniors are leading the Kats in hitting: Belt leads the team with a .450 batting average (9 for 20), Perry McCullum is hitting .389 (14 for 36) and DaShaun Barbary is hitting .375 (9 for 24). Junior Colt Munsey is batting .367, Perkins is hitting .351 (team leading four home runs and 20 RBIs) and Harding is at .333.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand with our pitching,” said Swan. “Hopefully it allows our pitchers not to feel like they have to be perfect every inning because of a lack of run support. They know when they get on the mound we are going to get them some runs, which hasn’t happened in the past.”

Kokomo has a busy, and challenging, week with an NCC road-trip to McCutcheon (8-2, 2-2 NCC) on April 25, a home game with (Class 4A honorable mention) McCutcheon on April 26, the annual Teachers Appreciation Day battle with Northwestern (4-7) at Municipal Stadium on April 28 and a road twin bill at (3A honorable mention) Brebeuf (4-11) on April 29.

KOKOMO PARKS DEPARTMENT READY FOR AN EXCITING 2017 AFTER STORMS ENDED LAST SUMMERS FUN

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Six months ago, Kokomo Parks Superintendent Torrey Roe was beginning to think about winding down the summer softball season, securing the parks for the winter and placing the annual Christmas lights display in Highland Park. But on Aug. 24, 2016, those plans were put on hold when an EF-3 tornado ripped through the heart of Kokomo causing major damage at Highland Park and the surrounding neighborhood.

Roe and his team quickly went to work clearing debris, not only from city-owned properties, but also residents who needed help. As the debris was removed, it was evident that Highland Park took a direct hit. At the time, Roe said more than 100 trees were lost and there was heavy damage to Southside Youth Baseball League and the handicap-accessible playground.

Fast-forward eight months, and Roe is excited about the upcoming busy season for the Kokomo Parks and Recreation Department. And part of that excitement is the progress that was made on the recovery efforts in Highland Park.

“We have planted 150 trees,” said Roe, noting most of those were planted on the southeast side of the park. “We planted more than we lost because it is good for the environment. Plus, we kept some trees that we are not sure if they will make it.”

The handicap-accessible playground, which was located on the southern end of the park, was heavily damaged by the tornado. The Parks Department is currently in the process of relocating and integrating it into the main playground located on Deffenbaugh Street in Highland Park. The main playground is also getting a major facelift and will be dedicated in early May.

“We have a really nice playground going in and we have updated the restrooms,” said Roe. “One of the curly-cue slides will stay and one will be relocated. The restrooms and playground will be (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. We will also have a new multi-level play piece. It will be an all-inclusive playground for individuals of all abilities.”

Repairs to Southside were also completed with the assistance of the league in time for Opening Day ceremonies on April 15. Southside had major damage to its minor league press box, fencing, bleachers and light poles.

“Southside is up and running,” he said. “The lights and fencing have been replaced and the bleachers have been repaired. We are happy to get that youth league back in shape.”

Roe oversees 31 parks on 450 acres of land, plus other entities such as Kokomo Beach, walk paths, pavilions, concert venues, the Showmobile and the Jackson-Marrow Skate Park.

One of the busiest places is the city aquatic center. Kokomo Beach will open on the weekend of May 20-21 before operating daily from May 27 through July 30 and slowing to the first three weekends of August.

“There are no major changes to Kokomo Beach,” he said. “For people who purchase season passes, we have allowed the lazy river water walking to be included – last year it cost $2 to enter.”

Prices for Kokomo Beach remain the same – an adult daily pass is $5 and $4 for youth. Kokomo residential season youth passes are $50 ($75 for non-city residents) and adults are $60 ($90 for city non-residents).

Another popular returning activity is the Recreation Adventure Program which provides arts and crafts, games, storytelling, special events, picnic, sports and physical fitness in a supervised park setting. The program will run from June 5 through July 21 from noon to 5 p.m., with crafts costing $1 each. The program will take place on Monday through Friday at Highland, Bon Air, Mohr and Lafayette Parks; Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Garden Square Apartments; and Tuesday and Thursday at Pine Valley Apartments.

The Kokomo Park Band Summer Concert Series will feature eight nights of musical entertainment in Highland Park, beginning on June 7 when a special pre-concert will take place featuring the Indiana National Guard Band. Other highlights include Sally Duke singing with the Kokomo Park Band on June 14, a Patriotic Tribute on June 28 and the Grand Finale with the Kokomo Men of Note Barbershop Chorus on June 26.

“On any given night, there is between 600 to 800 people at a concert,” said Roe. “The Indiana National Guard will be here to kick things off, and they selected Kokomo as a concert stop. It should be a really good night.”

Other KPRD activities include Pooches at the Pool, Super Explorers, community garage sales, tennis lessons, water sprays, family movie nights the Kelly Miller Circus (May 11 at Future Park) and Pint Size Chef.

For more information on Kokomo Beach or any park activity, call KPRD at (765) 456-PARK or visit www.cityofkokomo.org and click on the Parks Department tab. New to the website this year is a parks calendar that lists every activity the department offers.

UCT OPENS LEAGUE PLAY AND NAMES MENTAL ATTITUDE AWARD AFTER SLAIN HOWARD COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTY CARL A. KOONTZ

With Nolan Sanburn looking on, UCT President Andy Keating presents the first Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award to Kassie and Noah Koontz. (SJ photo/Dean Hockney)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Each spring, young baseball players gather around the nation and play baseball. Kokomo is no exception, and since 1951, future Major Leaguers have been playing at Miller-Highland Park along the banks of the Wildcat Creek. In 1953, the league was renamed UCT Little League after a donation by United Commercial Travelers of American.

Decades later, UCT Youth Baseball League is a power not only in Howard County, but around the state. The league owns 11 David A. Kasey Memorial Youth Baseball Tournament titles and are the defending 12-year-old all-star state champions.

On April 16, UCT hosted its 67th annual opening day ceremonies with a packed park of players, coaches, families and friends. In 2017, UCT hosts seven T-Ball squads, eight Rookie League teams, three Minor League teams and six Major League teams. Under the leadership of league president Andy Keating, more than 300 Kokomo youth will be playing America’s Pastime each evening through June.

After introducing every player, a prayer by Amy Roe and a perfectly executed rendition of the National Anthem by Sean VerLee, Noah Koontz, who was escorted to the pitching mound by his mother Kassie, delivered the opening day game ball to UCT alumnus and current professional baseball pitcher Nolan Sanburn, who tossed out the first pitch of the season. But before Sanburn could make the toss, Keating had a special announcement that thrilled the crowd.

“We have not had a mental attitude award at UCT,” said Keating. “But we now will have the UCT Carl A. Koontz Mental Attitude Award.”

Koontz, Noah’s father and Kassie’s husband, was a Howard County Sheriff’s Deputy who was killed in the line-of-duty last year. Keating presented the inaugural award trophy to the Koontz family in a ceremony that took place on the UCT pitcher’s mound.

After Sanburn fired a strike to Patrick Hardimon of Coke, Keating grabbed the microphone one final time and yelled the most famous words in baseball: “Play ball!” And with that, the 2017 youth baseball season was underway.

NOTE: Southside also opened on April 15. Greentown, Northwestern, Taylor Southeast and Russiaville opens on April 22; Northside on April 29; and Eastside on May 6.