PLAY BALL  — Members of the IU Kokomo men’s baseball team get work in during the fall. Their season kicks off next week in Tennessee.
Herald Photo / File
PLAY BALL — Members of the IU Kokomo men’s baseball team get work in during the fall. Their season kicks off next week in Tennessee. Herald Photo / File

Indiana University Kokomo will unveil its brand-new baseball team to the NAIA on Feb. 9. The men’s team will travel to Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn., for the program’s first game. 

Skipper Matt Howard is ready to see his players on the field after a solid fall showing.

“You never know what you are going to get with a brand-new program and bringing in a bunch of new guys who are completely different, from all different places,” Howard said. “At the beginning (of fall), we were a little rough. Our guys have done a tremendous job of gelling as a group, maturing. I think they’ve really bought into our system and what we plan to do.”

Team captains Mason Bruce (JR., Lafayette, Ind.) and Nick Cottongim (JR., Plainfield, Ind.) echoed Howard’s word by saying that nobody on the team knew each other, but many knew of each other. As the fall progressed, they became more comfortable around each other, building a brotherhood.

“Coach was big on us getting to know each other and grow together. Once we all got together, it became one awesome piece,” Cottongim said.

The Cougars were able to practice late into the fall and early winter due to mild temperatures. When winter finally hit and they were forced inside, the team hit the Cole Fitness Center hard and worked on techniques and game situations in the gym to be ready for spring.

“We’re indoors (right now) so we’re working on the little things that we think will win us games,” said Howard. “Situational hitting, small ball, all the things that really lead you winning and losing. We’re trying to get those things down so when we leave indoors and head to Tennessee, we feel confident.”

Bruce said the winter workouts changed a lot of the players' physique, getting them ready for play.

“When we first got here in the fall, we had a lot of little, skinnier kids, and because of the weight program and conditioning program, we’ve all put on size. We’ve all gained strength, speed, agility. It’s going to pay off in the long run,” he said.

Cottongim said that some of the larger guys on the roster shaped up as well and that all the players have changed. 

Going into the winter workouts and coach moratorium (no coach is allowed to oversee practices or workouts for a set amount of time), the captains were tasked with running the show, but Bruce and Cottongim said that the players were eager to get to the field (when the weather was good) and in the gym for workouts.

“The program that coach has had us do, he makes it easy to want to come in and do what he wants us to do. He pushes working hard and we’ll have good results. All of us want good results, so we’re working hard. We all want to go to the field every day, and we want to put work in,” Bruce said. “They all have drive.”

The Cougars will open its season on the road with a 12-game road trip before returning home to open at Kokomo Municipal Stadium on Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

Howard set a tough schedule for the Cougars this season.

“We’re playing some of the NAIA’s best early. During the midweek, as well, we’re playing some really good teams, including Butler University. My plan was to put together the best schedule possible to see how good we are, how good we’re not, so that we can continue to build and work towards being one of the best teams at our level,” Howard said. “I’m confident that we are going to compete, and we’re going to show people we are ready to go right away. It was important to me to have a good schedule in place so when we do win ball games, people respect what we’ve done.”