There were expectations, but along with it came uncertainty. Head coach Robbie Miller knew it, and so did his players.
What was Greenfield-Central baseball going to be in 2017?
With arguably the state’s best pitcher in senior Drey Jameson, a Ball State recruit, and six returning starters on the roster, the program entered this season with youth, inexperience, veteran leadership and swagger.
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The key was finding a way to put it all together, and Miller, the 2017 Hancock County Coach of the Year as voted upon by the coaches and Daily Reporter sports staff, went to his ever-building playbook to find the right strategy.
An assistant coach for the Cougars from 2001 to 2012 before taking over the program in 2014, Miller is always adding to his coaching database.
Miller, a 1997 New Palestine High School graduate, often draws from his collegiate playing days at Franklin College. He also reflects back to his first sectional title coaching experience in 2001 while assisting his brother and former Cougars head coach Scott Miller, as the program snapped a 19-year drought.
He was on staff with former head coach C.J. Glander in 2005 and 2006 when former star Kyle Gibson led the Cougars to prominence.
This year, Miller zeroed in on one steadfast philosophy — control the little things and big things will happen.
The Cougars bought in and turned a 10-18 record in 2016 into a sectional championship 18-11 season in Miller’s third year at the helm.
Greenfield-Central’s sectional title run was the program’s 13th in school history and first in four years. They beat New Castle 2-1 to win the championship.
The team nearly knocked off the eventual Class 4A state champion Cathedral Irish in the Decatur Central Regional semifinals, losing 1-0 in eight innings, in a game that won’t soon be forgotten.
Recently, Miller spoke with the Daily Reporter, discussing his team’s memorable season.
How memorable is this season going to be for you?
RM: Your first (sectional title) is always going to be your most memorable one. It’s sad, but the other night I went on Facebook and watched my wife’s live feed she posted from the end of the game. It was 27 minutes, and I watched every little bit of it. Now, I know who the real culprits are that dumped the water on me, too.
It was fun. I was a volunteer assistant in 2001 when my brother (Scott) was coach and they won. In 2005 and ‘06 when I was an assistant, it was fun, but this one tops all of those. It’s definitely a different experience being a head coach. I don’t know if I’ll ever forget it.
How important was it for your guys to just go out there and have fun with the game this year?
RM: In the games we tried to do too much, we didn’t do anything. I was thinking back to the preseason, and the lineup we started with was basically the lineup we finished with. We had one change. The kids, they really bought in. I kept telling them, it’s a game of small things. If you can do those things, you’re going to have a lot of success.
In the sectional championship, Drey led off with a home run, which helped, but then they walked him later and Tyler Farrell probably hits into a double play, but they committed an error. It was nice to get the breaks to go our way. It’s always about the little things and never giving up.
How much did you refer back to your past experiences this season?
RM: A lot of stuff I do is because of (C.J. Glander). He was an assistant at Noblesville before he came here and coached with Denny Kas, who is in the Indiana coaches hall of fame and won over 500 games. That’s what was neat about this year. Denny Kas sent me a text congratulating me. I told him that I learned a lot from him, and he joked, ‘you mean all the stuff not to do.’ You always take a little bit from those you coach under and for one summer we coached the Indiana Bulls together, and it was fun. Him and Glander taught you how to do things the right way.
Have you reflected back on the Cathedral game much since the season ended?
RM: If we could have scored one run, that very easily could have been us playing (at Victory Field). It made me sick watching them on TV (in the state finals). If we win that game, I think we have to piece together to beat Roncalli because they were a good baseball team, but if we had Drey throwing on the mound, we can beat anyone in the state of Indiana. And I still believe that. If you put us in that same situation 10 times, same pitchers and everything; we win five and they win five. And that’s a team that’s ranked nationally. It eats at me, but it’s great motivation for the kids coming back to know we can compete with anyone.
When you took over the program is this the progression you wanted to see?
RM: Absolutely. Like I told the kids after the last game. I think the first couple of years people looked forward to playing Greenfield-Central. Now, I want them to think, ‘oh gosh, we have to play Greenfield-Central.’ But the guys know, you can’t just show up and win. You have to perform. I want them to get that mentality when they step on the field, and I think we finally got there; they are expecting to win every single game they play.