Ex-Danville assistant now coaching former nemesis at Indian Creek

There is arguably nobody in the state who knows how good Indian Creek’s baseball team is more than Steven Mirizzi. As an assistant coach at Danville, Mirizzi had a front-row seat as the Braves eliminated his Warriors en route to sectional titles each of the past two years.

So when the Indian Creek job came open this past offseason, Mirizzi knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take over a program that is quickly becoming the best kept secret in central Indiana.

“I had been at Danville the past five years, and I have gotten a chance to see a lot of Indian Creek baseball,” Mirizzi said recently while taking a break from getting the field ready for the upcoming season. “When I saw this job open up, it was a no-brainer for me.”

Indian Creek hadn’t won a sectional title in baseball in over 40 years when it claimed the crown two years ago after going 18-3. The Braves slipped to 14-8 last season but still made it back-to-back championships after beating favored Danville 1-0 in the semifinals.

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With seven starters back from that team, including three of its top four starting pitchers, Indian Creek looks to be the heavy favorite in a reconfigured sectional that features five other teams that did not post winning records last year.

But Mirizzi has loftier goals than just a third straight sectional title. The first-year coach firmly believes that his group has the ability to accomplish feats rarely seen at the school.

“Our goal coming in is to raise the expectations. They’ve had two sectional titles the past two years, and I think they’re hungry for something bigger and better this year — and I think we’ve got the guys to do it,” Mirizzi said.

It will be pitching that will carry the Braves this year. Purdue commit Trevor Ankney is the staff ace after posting a 2.45 ERA and striking out 65 in nine appearances last year. The junior has over 140 strikeouts in just 80 innings the past two years, and Mirizzi believes he will only get better.

“He is going to probably lead us on the mound and we’re going to lean on him heavily,” Mirizzi said. “But we also have Dustin Sprong, who has a live arm and a good fastball, and another junior pitcher in Wyatt Phillips. I’d argue that Dustin and Wyatt are right up there with Trevor in terms of pitching.”

Sprong also led the team in hitting last year with a .333 average and 15 RBIs, while Jared DeHart (.323) and Dawson Read (.317) give the Braves a strong nucleus of hitters.

One player that Mirizzi is excited about is junior catcher Cody Grider, who missed much of last season with an injury. He’s healthy this year, and the coach said he believes he has the right guy to handle his talented pitching staff.

“He’s shown consistency at the plate, and he knows how to call a game and receives it well,” Mirizzi said. “I know a lot of our pitchers feel comfortable with him behind the plate. … He’s stepped up this offseason, has put in a lot of work and I think he’s ready for this opportunity.”

After several years of competing in a sectional full of schools from west of Indianapolis, Indian Creek will be in with all Indianapolis schools this year with Beech Grove, Broad Ripple, Chatard, Herron and Manual.

Beech Grove is the only school in that group other than Indian Creek to win a sectional title in the past 10 years.

A native of the Cincinnati area, Mirizzi graduated from Lakota West High School in Ohio and coached at Princeton High School before moving to Danville in 2013. He currently lives in Avon with his fiancee and two children.

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Center Grove Trojans

Coach: Keith Hatfield

Last season: 18-9; lost to Whiteland in first round of Franklin Sectional

Who’s back: P/3B Hunter Burnett, OF/P Corey Daffron, SS/P Bryce Eblin, P/OF Brian Gaffney, P/1B Jacob Gilcrest, 2B/3B Shawn Grider, C Garrett Hill, P/OF Jacob Johnson, C/SS Eli Lawyer-Smith, SS/2B Braden Parks, SS/2B A.J. Poynter, 3B/SS Ryan Sauter, C Kyle Winkler, 1B Mikey Wyman

Who’s gone: Nick Coy, Chris Foote, Max Heath

Outlook: With virtually everybody back from an 18-win team, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the Trojans could be in for a special season this year. Four players hit over .300 last year, led by sophomore Purdue commit Eblin (.369, 22 runs), Sauter (.380, 22 RBIs) and Wyman (.371, 26 RBIs), while Johnson (4-0, 1.56 ERA) and Gaffney (3-2, 1.47 ERA) anchor the pitching staff. “I am very excited about this year’s group. We will be old and experienced because we only lost one starter,” Hatfield said. “I think if we can be consistent at the plate, we can make a run.”

Edinburgh Lancers

Coach: Jason Burton

Last season: 12-12; lost to Indianapolis Lutheran in Morristown Regional semifinal

Who’s back: P/OF Ethan Armel, C Parker Bryant, P/1B Tavian Cosby, 3B/OF Ryan Gaston, OF/P Zach Giles, P/SS Coltan Henderson, P/SS Zack Murphy, OF Dillon Simpson, P/IF Gabe Wilson

Who’s gone: Kyle Armel, Tristan Browning, Keegan Sida

Key newcomers: P/IF Tyson Sackman, OF Austin Streeval

Outlook: Expectations are high in Edinburgh with seven starters back from last year’s sectional championship team. Murphy (.409, 19 RBIs, 2.30 ERA) earned all-conference, all-area and all-county honors last year and is the leader. Bryant (.347, 10 RBIs), Cosby (1.43 ERA), Henderson (.378, 20 RBIs) and Wilson (.329, 12 RBIs) help give the Lancers a loaded starting lineup. “If this team builds off recent success and continues to get better as a complete unit, they have the potential to be a very special team,” Burton said. “This team has the potential to be remembered as one of the best teams in a program full of rich baseball history.”

Franklin Grizzly Cubs

Coach: Ryan Feyerabend

Last season: 11-13; lost to Franklin Central in first round of Franklin Sectional

Who’s back: OF Blake Dicken, C/3B Alec MacLennan, SS/P Luke Miles, P Branson Pugh, CF Jonah Rockey

Who’s gone: Jamie Burnett, Michael Couet, Jacob Heuchan, Jerris Lee, Isaac McCullough, Ty Myers, Stone Peddycord, Alex VanDyke

Key newcomers: IF/P George Admire, IF Dillon Barnes, IF/P C.J. Brown, IF Christian Matthews, OF/P Tyce Miller, IF/P Jared Ross, OF/P Luke Torrance, C Nathaniel Whetstine

Outlook: Franklin took some heavy losses from its Mid-State Conference championship team of a year ago but still has some gas left in he tank. MacLennan (.324, 4 HR), Miles (.329, 2.40 ERA), Rockey (.290) and Pugh (2.90 ERA) give the team a solid nucleus. “We lost some good players last year, but I feel we have the talent returning that will help us be a solid ballclub,” Feyerabend said. “We are just excited to get rolling and see how it all shakes out.”

Greenwood Woodmen

Coach: Andy Bass

Last season: 8-17-1; lost to Martinsville in Franklin Sectional semifinal

Who’s back: 3B/C/P T.J. Bass, OF/P Jordan Martin

Who’s gone: Jackson Beckham, Jarrett Caster, Spencer Gaudian, Damon Maynard, Dylan Rosado, Bevin Shackelford, Mason Stunick, McCauley Stunick

Key newcomers: IF/OF Cameron Crick, OF/P Parker Jones, C/1B Jordan Leverett, IF Trent Rains, SS/P Alex Rau, OF/P Ben Sobieray, IF Brody Tisdale, 1B Jordan Wright

Outlook: The Woodmen lost plenty to graduation and will rally around seniors T.J. Bass (.235, 4HR, 2.03 ERA) and Martin (13 RBIs, 2.72 ERA, 80 K). “I believe that pitching and leadership will be our strengths in 2018,” coach Bass said. “We will have to be a solid defensive team and gain depth to our lineup as the season goes along. Our success will depend on how quick the inexperienced players develop and become comfortable.”

Greenwood Christian Cougars

Coach: Doug Hagist

Last season: 13-8; lost to Edinburgh in Morristown Sectional championship

Who’s back: OF George Apgar, OF Cooper Britt, SS/P Colton Crick, SS/P Griffin Huizinga, C/1B Joey Jessup, OF/P Payton Modlin, 1B/P Elliott Murray, OF Danny Wilson

Who’s gone: Nolan Check, Ethan Chupp, Camden Peters

Key newcomers: 3B/P Joel Stinnett, OF Kegan Owen

Outlook: The Cougars won 13 games and reached the sectional championship game last year with a roster made up largely of sophomores, and they should be in for a good season this year. Juniors Crick (.492, 15 RBIs, 22 runs) and Modlin (.422, 8 RBIs, 12 runs) form the team’s nucleus. “With the return of Joel (from Greenwood), the addition of Kegan (from Roncalli), and the junior starters from last year, this team should be more of a veteran squad and ready to take on the challenge of a new season,” Hagist said.

Indian Creek Braves

Coach: Steven Mirizzi

Last season: 14-8; lost to Tri-West in Brebeuf Jesuit Regional semifinal

Who’s back: P/SS Trevor Ankney, OF Luke Bramlett, 2B/P Jared DeHart, C Cody Grider, SS/P Dawson Read, P/1B Dustin Sprong, RF/P Dylan Sprong, OF Joey Willis

Who’s gone: Eric Braughton, Reilley Johnson, Jeremy Lee, Nolan Remsburg, Max Walls

Key newcomer: P/IF Wyatt Philips

Outlook: Indian Creek has won the past two sectional crowns, and with seven starters back that trend looks to continue. First-year coach Mirizzi will rely on a deep pitching staff, led by the Purdue-bound Ankney (2.75 ERA) and DeHart (2.26 ERA), and a lineup that features three players that hit over .300 with at least 10 RBIs. “This is a group that has had a lot of success and we expect that to continue,” Mirizzi said. “If we can manage the opponent’s runs, I like our chances. Our goal is to get past the regional round, and I think we can do that.”

Whiteland Warriors

Coach: Scott Sherry

Last season: 14-14; lost to Martinsville in Franklin Sectional championship

Who’s back: OF Chase Bennett, IF/P Nick Carrizales, Austin Cook, P/IF Luke Helton, P Riley McMahon, OF/P Iyan Pelfree, P Tyler Wick

Who’s gone: Jeremy Clements, Austin Corn, Jake Holzhausen, Gared Kleyan, Jacob Leistner, Logan Mullinix, Roy Ramey, Tyler Robinson, Bailey Watson, Logan Wynn

Key newcomers: OF Garrett England, C Ryan Glithero, C Jimmy Gruss, P/IF Trevor Spilker

Outlook: Whiteland reached the sectional championship game last year, and there is plenty of reason to believe that the Warriors can match that feat again this year with six regulars back, led by Helton, Pelfree and Bennett. “(We) will look to build on a successful 2017 campaign,” Sherry said. “We return six players who played big roles on last year’s team and will look for some new faces to fill in.”