Inside Pitch Magazine, November/December 2021

Inside Interview: Shane Sieben

Preparing a Championship Prep Program

By Adam Revelette

Rock Creek high school team photo holding trophy from state title victory with head coach Shane Sieben in back rowShane Sieben was a member of the 1998 state championship team at Manhattan HS and played at Cloud County Community College before returning to Manhattan as a student assistant at Kansas State. He took over at Rock Creek High School before the 2015 season, helping the Mustangs to its first state title that same year. Rock Creek captured its second title in 2021, as Sieben was named the 2021 ABCA/ATEC Division III National High School Coach of the Year. The Mustangs have won Regional Championships in each of Sieben’s first six year at the school. 

In addition to his role as head baseball coach, Sieben is an educator and is also the head football coach for RCHS. 

Inside Pitch: You guys have been at a high level for a long time. What would you attribute all that success to?

Shane Sieben: When I came over in 2015, the coach prior to me, Chad Herren, who's now the head coach at Rock Valley College (IL), had done a great job building a strong foundation, a summer program and getting more and more kids involved. And before Chad it was Scott Harshbarger, who's now an admin here in the area, they're the ones that really built the foundation of the program and got it started. So when I got here, there was an inherent love for the game, and a lot of the things you need to be successful were already in place. 

IP: What is the summer program like in your area?

SS: Coach Herren started a Legion program when he was here, and we no longer affiliated with Legion, but we do maintain a summer high school team. It’s a 16U summer team, last year we had a roster of 16 players. It’s a less intense environment that is focused on fundaments more than anything.  

We also have some area "select ball" options for our kids as well. One of those is The Barn Baseball Academy, which is managed by Drew Biery, who played at K State. 

IP: So you have the summer figured…how do you navigate the winter?

SS: Well in Kansas it's really tough because our governing body does not allow us to do any baseball-related work with our kids in the winter. So I can't do any throwing programs, hitting, training. Fortunately for us being a small school, most of our kids are involved in winter sports, so they’re active. Several of our guys are on the basketball team, and a lot of them play football in the fall as well. I encourage playing multiple sports! 

But for those other guys, we just encourage them to get into a facility or just throw into a net to try and get their arms in shape before baseball season starts. We have to rely heavily on them. That's something that our coaching organization here in Kansas is trying to get changed, we're trying to pass arm care training that would allow us to help prepare the kids for the spring and hopefully that works out. 

IP: What’s the start of your season look like when you have kids that have been training in a facility or maybe just throwing into a net at home, some coming over from basketball, how do you get them ready in short order?

SS: That's a great question. When our basketball team makes deep runs in the playoffs, we don’t see them for the first couple weeks. So we're putting a lot of trust in the conversations we have; is your arm taken care of? How much have you been working? And we just have to take their word on it. 

As we start the season, I stay pretty conservative with the arms. We put our kids on a stricter pitch count than the PitchSmart guidelines, we don’t get over 60 for the first couple weeks of the season, and we build up slowly. We’re usually a month into the season before a guy gets to 80 pitches. We really use March and April as a developmental period that’s getting our team ready for May. 

IP: And your assistants?

SS: Our pitching coach here is Jared Ayres, and he's been with me since, oh, 2016. He's a kid that I did lessons for when he was growing up in the area here. He pitched at Presentation College in South Dakota. He’s a kid that I've coached and I think the world of, and he does an outstanding job with our pitchers. And then Patrick Bramhall, is our outfield coach/hitting coach. And then I take infielders and work kind of everywhere.

IP: What do your practices look like? Is it everybody? Is it group work?

SS: We have everybody. We have usually about 32 to 36 total. We start with the dynamic warmup and go right into base running. After that we go into our throwing program, followed by individual defense; infielders, outfielders and catchers. We do that for about 20 minutes, followed by a team period that lasts about the same amount of time – relays, bunt coverages, first and third, situations. And then with our last hour we’ll finish with live BP, a situational scrimmage, base running BP, 4 vs. 4. We never just take BP, everything we do is usually with some type of a live read off the bat. We want to make it a point to emphasize base running more than anyone else.

IP: What do you mean by ‘groups of four’?

SS: Split the team into groups of four: hitting, base running, two groups on defense, and any extra groups in the cages. It's basically a situational hitting drill. We put runners at first for one round ("inning") and you have to find a way to get them over, get them in. Base runners are required to try to take the extra base on every ball in play. So if you're at first in that drill, anything through the infield, you have to get to third, and the batter runner has to get to second. You can only get points if you take those extra bases, which forces the defense to play catch and execute cuts, relays, and communication. 

IP: In addition to taking the extra base on balls in play, are you big on stealing bases?

SS: It depends a lot on what we have as a team. If we have team speed, we’ll give our guys green lights and we're probably more aggressive during the season than a lot of teams. And we’ll small ball, we’ll slash, we’ll bunt if we need to, especially if we have a smaller, quicker team. 

But especially with base running, I want them to push the envelope so they learn when they can and when they can’t run. And I want them to be aggressive. 

IP: Is there anything that you learned as a football coach that you think, "man, I got to take that to my baseball guys."

SS: There's stuff you pick up all the time. I've been fortunate to work with some really good coaches along the way, and you pick up things from everybody. For me, a lot of it is finding out the best ways to develop relationships with the kids.

IP: When you talk about the relationship building, is there anything you feel like sets you guys apart at Rock Creek?

SS: We've mixed it up every year, we’ve done lip sync contests, some different things on campus, pregame meals, gone to college games together. We're fortunate that we've got some kids that really care about each other, and they care about the program. We also have phenomenal parent involvement. I think that helps bring kids, our school and ultimately our community together, which therein makes a huge impact on our success. 

IP: What are the lines that you draw when it comes to the parents being involved in the program? Can they talk to you about playing time?

SS: I'm not one that shuns parents and says, ‘We're not going to talk about it.’ I think dialogue and communication is huge and I'm not opposed to it, but I think there has to be some guidelines. If it's an issue about playing time or something that took place in a game, we won't address it within 24 hours of the game. I think that's important. And we'll discuss your kid and how they can improve their playing time, but we are going to talk about your kid and your kid only, we won't discuss anybody else.

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