Bloomington South’s Phil Kluesner in good company

For six years, Phil Kluesner was something of an underdog.

He was named head coach of Columbus North in 2003 and brought his first team to Winslow Park to play his old school in the Sections.

“It was a bit strange,” Kluesner said. “I think it was 2003. South was really good. I still remember, we had Jordan Buss on the mound. It wasn’t overwhelming, but he was a locator. A run game and (Trevor) McConnell was at home plate with two strikes.

“He can tell you, sharper than me. It was a curveball, about six inches from home plate and he played it to left center for a three-run homer. I still remember Jordan looking at me from the shelter.”

In 2009, he would cross the pitch and move into the home dugout, taking over the Panther program he grew up in under Grier Werner, a winner of 419 games in 28 seasons.

Phil Kluesner wore a different uniform from 2003 to 2008, coaching the Columbus North baseball team before returning to his alma mater to succeed Grier Werner as Bloomington South baseball coach.

Earlier this season, Kluesner joined Werner in the 300-win club, giving Monroe County a fourth baseball coach this century to break the barrier. Edgewood’s Bob Jones earned the 500th win last season, his 36th, and North’s Richard Hurt is closing in on that number, with 431 of his 481 wins with the Cougars.

Few counties in Indiana can boast three active baseball coaches with over 1,300 wins.

“Monroe County baseball has been very good,” Hurt said. “There have been good players here for a very, very long time and people need to recognize that and come and see the kids play.”

“New” guy in town

Taking over from a future Hall of Fame coach, there was certainly pressure to keep the ball rolling and ensure a winning tradition that dated back to the days of Bloomington High School would continue.

“The big thing that happens is trying to establish that credibility,” Kluesner said. “When you follow a guy like that, who was my coach in high school, who’s kind of legendary, you know? It’s just to establish credibility, because the closet wasn’t empty.

“We won the conference, sections and regionals and went to the last four that year with that group. Once they found out I had been through the rigors and had Werner as my coach, it was much easier.”

That 2010 team was sure to make most people believe. After a five-inning rout of Columbus North in Game 1 of the section, the Panthers won 7-6 in eight innings, outscored North 7-5 in the final, then crushed Terre Haute South 5-4 and Evansville Harrison 6-4 in regional. before an apparent fate team lost 1-0 to Cathedral in the state semi-finals.

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It was good to be home again.

“This place is the #1 place I wanted to be,” Kluesner said. “It was very humbling to go through the process and have them tell you they want you as a coach. I’m happy and excited to coach here.”

Stability and success

While Jones has become an institution at Edgewood, Hurt led the Cougars through two long stints, the first from 1989 to 2002 when he won 203 games.

He returned in 2009 and is still only the fifth head coach in 50 years of a program that just surpassed 750 total wins.

It’s a streak of stability that dates back to Marvin Groh, who led the Bloomington High program for 25 years, winning 352 games and a state title in 1972.

“It’s good to have that stability,” Hurt said. “Kids understand and know what to expect. Just like in the classroom. They need to understand what’s going to happen.”

Bloomington North coach Richard Hurt speaks to the Cougars after a loss to Bloomington South in the 2015 Divisional Championship game.

“Danny Tieken, when he took over at Brown County (football), he asked me what it takes to have a winning program,” Jones said. “I said it takes consistency and dedication to the program and knowing that you’re going to be there. And all you do is build, build, build.”

To do this, a trainer must be willing and able to hang around for a while.

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“For me, I just love the game,” Hurt said. “I love teaching the game. I love competing. I think baseball is a sport you can play every day and there are ups and downs.

“It’s hard to control the game. So it’s like life. So you have to learn how to overcome that.”

Important victories

Kluesner, a 1990 Southern graduate, not only coached Hurt and Jones, he played against their teams.

“You can learn a lot from guys like that,” Kluesner said. “How to respect the game and deal with your players. Definitely two people who helped me, without them knowing it.”

Kluesner still soaks up the knowledge that there was no better place to start than Werner, then Hurt and Jones.

Longtime Edgewood coach Bob Jones had the Mustangs in the Class 3A state championship game in 2019.

“First and foremost, they know what they’re doing,” Kluesner said. “They’re good baseball players. I think looking from afar, they’re both good organizationally. You have to have that.

“They’re doing well with the kids. The kids respond to them. And both teams are playing hard. Their kids are prepared.”

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For Kluesner, it’s interesting to think he could fulfill the same role for any of his current or former players who want to become a coach one day.

But as he climbs the ranks, 300, 400, maybe 500 wins, he knows he didn’t do it alone.

“It means I had good players and good teams,” Kluesner said. “You can’t do something like this if you don’t have this combination that works for you.

“I was lucky to be in two institutions where the players are good.”

Contact Jim Gordillo at [email protected] and follow @JimGordillo on Twitter.

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