Josh VanMeter is in full swing in his final year of high school baseball at Norwell. Bringing a state title back to Ossian is VanMeter's perfect ending. But it's going to take a team effort.
A talented roster, including 10 seniors, returns from last season. Norwell moves forward without longtime coach Kelby Weybright, a two-time state champion who stepped down at the end of last season.
Andy McClain, who coached Indianapolis Brebeuf to the Class 3A runnerup finish last year, has taken over. He has led the Knights to a 9-1 mark, including a 6-0 win on Monday at Snider.
The transition in coaches seems to have gone well. McClain appears to have built great relationships with his players, and everyone in the program seems to connect well with each other.
“I talked with (Eric) Morgan (Norwell athletic director), we played college ball at Manchester, we spoke about the opening and I was very interested," McClain said. “Norwell baseball is definitely one of the best jobs in the state of Indiana.”
VanMeter couldn't wait to get started on his senior season as the Knights were ranked No.7 in Class 3A in the preseason state coaches poll. VanMeter missed last year's opener because of a state basketball run as the Knights finished runnerup in Class 3A. VanMeter's basketball career ended with Norwell losing to Concordia in the regional finals this season.
“Basketball is long season. This year I worked harder during basketball, I made sure I was doing something with baseball every day,” VanMeter said. “It didn't really cross my mind about not getting enough work in before the season. We lost to a great to a team in Concordia; losing early did allow me to get into the baseball groove.”
McClain was eager to get VanMeter back into baseball.
“Josh is one of the most talented players in the state,” McClain said. “The best thing for me as a coach is he's the hardest worker and leads by example.
“(Josh) worked hard to get strong. Compared to him as a freshman, just a total difference.”
VanMeter pitched a four-hitter and struck out seven in the Knights' 6-0 win over Snider on Monday at the Snider baseball complex. He was also 3-for-4 with a double and a triple.
The 6-foot, 170-pound shortstop has made a name the last four years. As a sophomore, VanMeter had a batting average above .500. As a junior he continued his success again, hitting above .500 with 30 hits and 25 RBIs. His pitching record was 2-1 with a 1.22 ERA, striking out 32.
VanMeter has school records for hits (53) and doubles (20) in a season. Heading into the Snider game on Monday, VanMeter was hitting .381 with 11 RBIs while drawing 10 walks. He's now 3-0 on the mound with 26 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched.
VanMeter has since caught the eye of major league scouts as well. VanMeter played on the Reds Midwest Scout team, as well as a long stint with the Summit City Sluggers.
“His college recruitment process was a little overwhelming for a while. No one really knows until they go through it,” McClain said. “We just tried to get him to enjoy it and relish the situation.”
Injury for VanMeter was another concern going into basketball, considering the fact he had committed to play at Illinois State for baseball.
“(Suffering an) Injury going into the season was one of the big factors in even playing basketball; whose mind doesn't it go through?” VanMeter said. “One last season of basketball wasn't going to kill me. I just wanted to go out and play for the school, fans and play for the community.”
McClain shared the same fear.
“God bless his mom, we would look over at each other with our fingers crossed,” McClain said. “ I knew he was in good hands and he knew how to take care of himself.”
A healthy team is also a key part to making a long run in postseason. VanMeter wants to finish his career on top with a state championship.
“We haven't had one since 2007. We're looking to bring the hardware home,” VanMeter said.
“We need to get a state championship,” McClain said. “The talent is definitely there. Talking about it is pretty cheap. We come to work hard every day and the kids have done everything we have asked. We work every day because there are other great teams that want it, too. We just need to hold up our end.”