Another level: New Pal’s Lyons to coach all-star team

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NEW PALESTINE — After more than 20 years with the same team, New Palestine baseball coach Shawn Lyons is set for a new coaching challenge.

Don’t worry, Dragons fans. The change is temporary.

For the first time in his coaching career, Lyons has been selected to coach in the Indiana High School Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

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The Dragons mainstay has been named the head coach of the South team in the series, set to take place July 20 through 22 at Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“They had approached me about just being involved on the coaching staff,” Lyons said. “When I got the call (to be the head coach) I was kind of flabbergasted and didn’t know what to say. I said certainly I’d do it and be honored to do it. I know we’ve had kids play in that game before and I’ve been up there with them, but I’ve never been on the coaching staff.”

While he has had New Palestine players selected to the all-star series before, Lyons is the sole representative from Hancock County taking part in the 2018 series. He will be surrounded by unfamiliar faces, both on his coaching staff and the players on the team.

The South team has three assistant coaches, two of whom Lyons has met previously but doesn’t know well. He has coached in an all-star showcase game with Jason Combs from Decatur Central. He met Castle’s Curt Welch at a 2012 regional game. He hasn’t met Lanesville coach Zach Payne yet, but they have talked via email.

Lyons has seen some of the players selected to the South team when they were 2018 opponents of his New Palestine team, but there’s not a lot of familiarity there.

So to prepare, he’s turning to those who have been there before him and to a group of coaches he already knows. He reached out to a handful of high school coaches who have coached in the all-star series previously and said he has gotten great insight into the experience from them.

He’s also planning on getting together with his assistant coaches from New Palestine to help come up with a game plan for the all-star festivities.

“My assistant coaching staff, I can’t say enough about the coaches that I coach with,” Lyons said. “Without them, this wouldn’t be possible. I have seven or eight different coaches and they all played the game, understand it and love working with the kids. It makes it a little bit easier.”

That staff includes Landon McBride, Andy Swain, Andrew Armour, Tim Zellers and Brad Rusche. Mike Zeilinga helms the JV team and Jerry Meredith the freshmen squad.

Together, they helped lead the Dragons to a blistering start and a No. 1 ranking in the state this season. The team finished 22-7 overall and 11-2 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, losing in the sectional final against eventual state runner-up Cathedral.

The Dragons finished No. 7 in the final state rankings.

Culture of success

Lyons said he thinks many factors played into being named an all-star team coach, including the strong season the Dragons had.

That’s nothing new for the coach, who has spent more than 20 years at New Palestine and the last seven as the head coach of the Dragons.

In his tenure as head coach, the Dragons are 145-64 overall. They have won three HHC titles, three sectionals and two regionals.

There has been a lot of winning, and it’s giving his team name recognition.

“I think the name New Palestine baseball resonates throughout the state,” Lyons said.

The Dragons have had a good deal of talent on the field, too. Two players from the 2017 team went on to play college baseball. Five of the recently-graduated seniors will be playing at the next level. Several soon-to-be seniors have plans to play in college after the 2019 season.

The players put in the work throughout the years, and Lyons said he has seen plenty of talent and passion for the sport in his program.

Talent and hard work can combine to take a player or a team far. Adding good coaching to the mix helps to create a culture of success the Dragons have sustained for many years now.

That starts with Lyons.

“Coach Lyons was very helpful to all his players. Whatever you need, he tried his best to do,” Jake Garrison, a senior pitcher and infielder on the 2018 Dragons team, said. “At the end of the day I trusted him to make the right decisions on the field. It was an honor to play for him. He was a great coach. He prepared me for the toughest games I had to play. But more important than that, he prepared me for life after high school.”

New experience

There are a lot of unknowns in an all-star game format. Lyons plans on using the Friday practice — the teams play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday of all-star weekend — to start digging into who can do what and who fits where.

The team has nine pitchers, with a maximum allowance of three innings pitched. There are position players who have pitched this year who also could figure in the mix.

With so many players on each team, there won’t be a large amount of at-bats to go around. There is a lot to figure out with the lineups.

It’s a juggling act that’s going to be a bit different than the day-to-day at New Palestine, but it’s one Lyons said he is looking forward to.

“You’re kind of cautiously optimistic — you don’t know what to expect yet,” Lyons said. “Once I meet with my staff and get the lay of the land, I think we’re going to go up there and have fun and represent your school. But they’re also keeping score, too. We want to try to win.

“We’re not playing for funsies, is what I tell my kids.”

The all-star games also give Lyons a new kind of experience, one he can take in differently than he might with the Dragons.

Things start each August for the baseball program and go almost nonstop through June. They start with small workouts once the students get back in school, then the team spends time working with coach Armour in the weight room throughout the year, and then they have the actual season to get through.

There’s the Little League program, travel team program, a September clinic for second- through eighth-graders — it all adds up to a whirlwind of baseball activity that helps create a strong foundation for the New Palestine baseball team.

“It’s been an experience that I wish that people could videotape it for me so I can go back and enjoy it after I did it,” Lyons said. “Once you’re in the middle of the season, you’re going at it pretty hard and don’t get a chance to enjoy it.”

Creating memories

Not lost in the chaos of the baseball season are some of the memorable moments.

Those run the gamut from the season-ending losses to the big wins, from heartbreak to elation.

“We were in a semistate as a 4A school, I think the only time in school history as a 4A school, and we lost to Roncalli in a tough game,” Lyons said. “Then, Gibson Southern in the semistate a couple years later, a couple plays away from being in the state championship game. Sectionals or regionals, the ride back from Crawfordsville after winning a regional, those things you just never forget.”

Through it all, Lyons said the players have made things fun and given him a positive experience in his time at New Palestine.

Now, he has the opportunity to try something different, with a new set of coaches and players in a new kind of environment.

His family all will be heading to South Bend to watch Lyons’ South team in action. While he said he’s disappointed to not have any Dragons on the team with him, he’s still honored to be a part of the series and ready to get to work.

“I’m looking forward to representing our community and our program,” Lyons said. “That’s pretty important to me, representing the program and our school system to the best of my ability.”