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.

 

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KOKOMO STARTS BASEBALL SEASON WITH A PAIR OF WIN OVER SOUTH BEND RILEY

Kokomo junior Kyle Wade struck out six in three innings to pick up the Kats first win of 2017. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Kyle Wade struck out three South Bend Riley hitters in the first inning to spark Kokomo’s 13-3 win (five innings) in the season opener for the Kats at Municipal Stadium. The junior hurler pitched three innings of shutout, two-hit baseball while striking out six. He also led the team at the plate with three RBI’s on a 2-run double and a sacrifice fly.

DaShaun Barbary was 3 for 3 with a run and an RBI. Jack Perkins had a pair or RBI’s on a triple, Brian Harding registered two RBI’s and Nate Hemmerich had two singles and an RBI. Kokomo pounded out 12 hits in its opener.

“Overall the Kats played well for their first time out; pitching well and playing solid defense,” said head coach Sean Swan. “Offensively the Kats had many quality at-bats throughout both games.”

In game two, the Kats registered another 13-3 win over Riley in five innings. Bayden Root picked up the win, throwing the first three innings, giving up three earned runs on three hits with seven strikeouts. Quamielle Belt smacked two hits, an RBI double and a single, and Colt Munsey had two hits to lead the offense. Noah Hurlock added a two-run double, Wade had an RBI triple and Root had an RBI double.

Swan said Kokomo has a tough week ahead as the Wildkats face Lafayette Jefferson to start North Central Conference play on April 11 at 6 p.m. at Municipal Stadium (at Jeff on April 12) The Kats then host non-conference opponent Frankfort Friday night before traveling to Harrison for the second conference series of the season Saturday.

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FORMER PANTHER AUSTIN WEAVER SHOWS THE NATION HIS HOOSIER HYSTERIA SKILLS

Austin Weaver fires up a 3-pointer for Western in 2015. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

 

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Austin Weaver knows a thing or two about shooting the rock. But as a sophomore at Indiana University South Bend, he thought his competitive days of hoops were limited to the blacktopped basketball courts in pick-up games.

Boy, was he was wrong.

In a crazy set of circumstances, Weaver found himself on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19 participating in the halftime shootout during the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Tournament. He was picked at random to knock down shots during the Kentucky-Wichita State contest. The former Western standout found a groove and drained 16 of 25 3-point attempts, and in the process, he won an expense-paid trip to the Final Four in Arizona.

That set the stage for April 3 in the mammoth University of Phoenix Stadium – a facility built for college and NFL football – as he took the court in front of more than 76,000 fans during halftime of the national title game between North Carolina and Gonzaga.

“It was pretty sweet,” exclaimed the 2015 Western graduate after settling back on campus in South Bend. “It was cool to see things like Tom Crean on the ESPN set and all of the fans.”

With no warm-up time permitted, Weaver saved one of the best shooting performances of his life for the biggest venue he could find. In the span of one minute during halftime, Weaver showed the nation what Hoosier Hysteria is about by hitting 13 3-pointers to claim the title and a cash prize.

“The first time I realized how nervous I would be was when I went to the Senior All-Star Game on Friday and we walked in and realized how huge the stadium was,” he said. “Then on Monday, we had to be on the floor with eight minutes left (in the first half) and I was getting nervous standing down there as we waited.”

Weaver explained that the three shooters did not get any warm-up time before the game – in fact, his only practice time in Arizona took place at his hotel. Prior to that, it was back on campus in South Bend.

“I stretched while we waited,” he said. “I tried to shoot at the hotel on the outdoor court. I had to use the hotel ball, but it was one of the worse things I had done in my life. The ball was deformed into a square and had lumps all over it – and it was a women’s size ball.”

Once on the floor, he had a goal to hit one of his first three shots.

“If I don’t start well, it doesn’t usually get any better,” he said. “It took me three to get going, and then I hit seven in a row.”

He then joked, “I think I have gotten a little better (than in high school).”

Along with bragging rights and the $1,500 prize, Weaver took home Final Four swag that included an official game ball. The entire package included $500 for winning in Indianapolis, airfare for two plus hotel, tickets to all three Final Four games and the Senior All-Star Game.

“It was cool that Clark Kellogg wished me good luck before I shot,” said Weaver. “And then he said ‘congrats’ afterward when I walked off the court. It sounds weird, but people were asking if I played in college – and people stopped and congratulated me in the airport. It was just fun.”

Weaver is no stranger to hitting shots from beyond the arc as he dropped in 104 3-pointers during his junior and senior seasons at Western. The All-Mid-Indiana Conference performer averaged 13.4 points per game during his final campaign.

Surprisingly, he is better known for his baseball skills after helping the Panthers win the IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 2012 as a pitcher. He was a two-time all-conference performer and twice led the Kokomo American Legion Post 6 squad to the state championship game. He took the Municipal Stadium hill for the Kokomo Jackrabbits last summer before stepping away from the game this year after pitching for the Titans of IU South Bend last spring.

But even with a baseball state championship and a college pitching resume, it will be shooting baskets in front of 76,000 fans that will be Austin Weaver’s “One Shining Moment.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that he will never forget.

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