NEW PALESTINE — His teams don’t start slow. They just have another gear.
For the past two seasons, Shawn Lyons’ New Palestine baseball teams have surged from good to great with impeccable timing.
When the state tournament rolls in, the Dragons take off.
In 2014, they went 18-9 in the regular season. In 2015, 17-11.
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Solid seasons to be sure, but nothing that would foreshadow the postseason prosperity that has become the hallmark of Lyons’ tenure at New Palestine.
In four seasons, Lyons owns a robust .736 winning percentage (13-4) in the state tournament compared to a .666 (72-36) in the regular season. His teams have outscored opponents 106-58 in those 17 postseason games.
Lyons is quick to deflect credit and reassign it to his players and staff, but there is one certainty he cannot deny: He is the coach and, for better or worse, the buck stops with him.
This season Lyons navigated the Dragons through a tumultuous season complicated by an unsettled pitching staff, injuries and some locker room turbulence.
Yet, as always, Lyons’ team came up clutch when it counted. The Dragons rattled off four straight postseason victories to claim a sectional title and a regional championship berth.
In all, Lyons’ has won three sectional crowns, two regional titles and, for the third time in four years, the Hancock County Coach of the Year award.
The award was voted upon by Hancock County baseball coaches and the Daily Reporter sports staff.
Q: Three out of four isn’t too shabby coach, especially by baseball standards. You’re batting .750 in coach of the year victories. What does that mean to you?
A: Well, I can say honestly that I don’t take it for granted. I have a lot of respect for the county coaches. Coach (Ryan) Carr did a very nice job stepping in there at Mt. Vernon. Chad (Coughenour) helped turn that Eastern Hancock program around to where it’s now pointing in the right direction … And I’ve known coach (Robbie) Miller for a long time, and he is definitely taking that program in the right direction. Those guys voting for me just says a lot about our program. It means a lot to me, but it’s a little unfortunate. I’m labeled as the head coach, but I have got nine assistant coaches working under me, whom me and the kids put a lot of trust and a lot of faith in. I mean, those guys believe, sweat and cry for our program just like I do. They really should be the county co-coaches of the year. They absolutely deserve it.
Q: So, what’s the secret behind getting your guys playing their best baseball come the postseason?
A: You always say you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year, but there is no magic formula. We had some bumps in the road, on the field and in the locker room, that we had to overcome. … The key this year was these guys started playing for each other. It sounds like coach speak, but we witnessed it.
Q: The Dragons suffered more than their fair share of injuries this season. What was your role in helping the team withstand and thrive despite setbacks?
A: Preparation in practice. As a coach, you have to rep up the No. 1 shortstop just as much as you do your No. 2. You remind the guys that they are one play away from being thrust into a tough situation. And those reps aren’t just during the season. You have to be getting guys ready in the fall and in the winter and in the weight room.
Even though it hurts to lose guys like Braden Roberts and Jason Hall-Manley (to injury), you can’t flinch as a coaching staff, because the players are looking to you to see how you react. If we preach having faith in the depth of our program, we have to trust it and show that faith to our guys.
Q: In the regional semifinal, you started all six of your seniors. What was their value to the team and the program?
A: Those seniors have done everything we’ve asked. They’ve passed the torch on. We try to create a culture, here. I don’t know if we do or not. I like to think we do, and they carried it on. I hope our underclassmen will carry the torch next year. These guys won three sectional titles, two regional (titles) and made two semistate appearances. It’s never easy to say goodbye, but they should leave feeling pretty good about themselves.
Q: Looking ahead to next season, you have the middle of your order returning with Keegan Watson and Hall-Manley, along with your top two pitchers in Zach Lovell and Hogan Fulkerson. Does that get you excited for next season?
A: No, I’m not excited about it. First, we just have to get through summer baseball, and we’ll take it from there. These kids are teenagers, and you never know what they will do. You don’t know if they’ll all come back and if they’ll all buy in again. If they complete their fall and winter workout programs, and they keep their heads on straight, making the right decisions on and off the field, and they keep up their academics, then maybe. But all of that stuff factors in. If we do all that, then absolutely we can be a pretty good squad. The sky’s the limit. But a lot of things have to happen between now and then.
Shawn Lyons has won Hancock County Coach of the Year three times in four years as New Palestine’s head baseball coach.
Shawn Lyons’ coaching record
Sectional titles: 2012, 2014, 2015
Regional titles: 2012, 2014