Cougars start new era under first-year coach

Trinity Lutheran’s baseball program has a lot of changes going into the 2019 season.

The Cougars aren’t returning many experienced players, and are under the new direction of first-year coach Benjamin Kleber.

Before taking on his new role, Kleber was an assistant varsity baseball coach at Brownstown Central for two years under coaches John Lawson and Brandon Tormoehlen. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Trinity Lutheran from 2014-16 under coach Bob Tabeling.

“I’ve had the opportunity to learn under some really great coaches,” Kleber said. “Coach Tabeling taught me a lot. He showed me what all it takes to run a program: how to interact with the players and parents. He really gave me the reigns a lot when I was here. Under Coach Tormoehlen was awesome. He’s a really great coach that’s doing great things over there. Coach Lawson was just a baseball guy. I learned a lot of different things from him. People really respected him.”

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Kleber said that he loved working with Tabeling, and that he learned a lot about the program from his years at Trinity.

“I’ve always loved coaching here. It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “The parents are always supportive and the players always work hard. It’s smaller groups, so you don’t get the numbers, but the guys that are here want to be here and work hard. I enjoy that part of it. Under coach Tabeling, the tradition that had been started here — I want to build on that. It’s a successful baseball program that I’m happy to be involved with.”

Kleber was also the Seymour High School freshman and American Legion baseball coach from 2011-14. He played collegiate baseball at Hanover College after graduating from SHS in 2007.

Kleber replaces Matt VonDielgen, who coached the Cougars the previous two seasons. Trinity hired Kleber in September.

The Cougars have 15 players on its 2019 roster. Kleber said just four or five of the players saw consistent varsity time last spring.

“We need to work on defense, and make sure we’re doing things the right way. We are breaking a lot of old habits,” Kleber said. “We have 15 guys, and five or six of them haven’t played. We’re trying to get the fundamentals down right now. In the beginning of the season, I’m not expecting us to be world-beaters. I think we’re going to do things the right way, and that will carry us later in the season when we get to sectional time.”

Kleber wants his team to play fast.

“We want to put a lot of pressure on another team,” Kleber said. “We’re not going to be lazy. We’re going to work really hard at it. Defensively, we’re going to be sound. We’re going to throw strikes and let everything else take care of itself.”

Trinity senior Trent Shoemaker said the team is shaping up in the preseason.

“It’s been good so far. We’re getting back to the basics,” Shoemaker said. “That’s how you learn, even in high school. You do that stuff you learned in fourth and fifth grade and keep going over it until you perfect it. I think we will be a more fundamentally-sound baseball team.”

Cougars seniors Hunter Morgan and Denver Shelley are both going out for the team for the first time this spring.

“The only reason why I haven’t done it is because I hurt my shoulder in tennis,” Morgan. “I figured what’s the point in not going out for my senior year.”

Shelley said the team’s getting better each day.

“You can tell everyone’s improving,” he said. “Everyone is getting the hang of things. We’re going to need a lot of chemistry. We will need to work hard. If we do that, I think we can be a pretty good team.”

The Cougars replace three graduated seniors: outfielder Jacob Crockett, first baseman Chandler Reynolds, and pitcher Jacob VonDielingen.

Reynolds and VonDielingen, Trinity’s 2018 co-MVPs, both made The Tribune’s All-County team last year. Reynolds led the team on offense and VonDielingen was the team’s top pitcher.

Shoemaker is the only returning senior. The Cougars have four seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen.

Kleber has been stressing a championship mindset to his players.

“We talk about the tradition here,” Kleber said. “We are also pressing that we really want to be the first team to win a regional here. It’s going to take some time, but the kids really seem to be buying into it.”

Last year, the Cougars finished 15-10. Trinity fell to Orleans 7-2 in the finals of the West Washington Sectional.

Trinity owns five total sectionals, including two over the past three years.