This past spring, the Marion Giants baseball team put together their best season in over two decades, winning 16 games and advancing to their first sectional championship game since 1998.
Now, two of the key pieces of Marion’s resurgence will be pitching collegiately next spring.
On Tuesday afternoon in the hospitality room at Marion High School, left-handed pitchers Ethan Dixon and Kyree Simmons both signed their letters of intent. Dixon will be staying local, pitching for IWU, while Simmons will be attending Ivy Tech Fort Wayne.
Dixon was the Giants’ ace in 2019, compiling a 6-2 record and 72 strikeouts in his senior season. He finished with a 2.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.48.
“This spring, Ethan started having good numbers,” IWU assistant coach Kris Holtzleiter said. “We paid a little of attention to baseball around here and noticed he was pitching well. We were interested in signing a left-handed pitcher. We don’t have a ton of depth on the left-handed mound side, so adding another lefty, especially a local kid…was something we were looking forward to doing.”
Dixon had a few other schools interested in him, including the University of Saint Francis and Manchester University, but after visiting the IWU baseball facilities and meeting with the coaches, his mind was made up, and he is looking forward to getting started.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Dixon said. “I need to put on weight. They want me to put on 30 pounds, so hopefully I am able to accomplish that. I also need to add five or six miles per hour on my fastball. I’m hoping to develop my pickoff move more, [be able to] locate a little bit better than I have sometimes, and pitch with my whole body instead of all arms.”
Coach Holtzleiter and the IWU baseball coaching staff have high expectations for Dixon. But while he still has some growing to do, Holtzleiter is excited for Dixon’s future.
“What we expect out of Ethan is for him to come in, work hard, and develop, and see what that looks like,” Holtzleiter said. “We have a very competitive team with a lot of talent. We are hoping that he comes in and throws strikes from the left side…and from there, we will see where he goes.”
Simmons was one of the best No. 2 pitchers in the county in 2019, finishing with a 6-1 record and 48 strikeouts in 42.1 innings.
After the 2018 campaign, Simmons did not have any aspirations to play collegiate baseball, but after seeing exponential growth in just one offseason after working with Marion assistant coach Blake Hancock, Simmons had a change of heart.
“In my junior year, I didn’t plan this at all,” Simmons said. “I didn’t think that I was going to play baseball in college. But then in my senior year, I got taller and I got stronger. Last year, I was throwing mid-70’s. Now, I’m throwing low 80’s. That opened up my eyes.”
Together with Hancock, Simmons reached out to Grace College and Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne, and also received interest from a college in Tennessee.
And after going up to Fort Wayne to take a tour of the campus and meet with the coaches, Simmons felt that Ivy Tech was the right fit for him.
“I liked the school,” Simmons said. “It was just a great place. It’s a really great opportunity for me. They really opened my eyes to how serious they are in making me better and making me a Division 1 pitcher in two years.”
Ivy Tech Head Coach Lance Hershberger is even more thrilled to add a talented left-handed hurler to his rotation next season.
In fact, Hershberger knew that Kyree was his guy after seeing his first pitch.
“Kyree was looking at going to Ivy Tech here in Marion and not playing ball, and Coach [Hancock] got a hold of me,” Hershberger said. “He’s an 80 mile per hour guy now, and is physically still developing. We are looking forward to having him. He’s a kid that has a very high ceiling. I think he has tremendous upside.”
Simmons, much like Dixon, has to continue to develop and hone his skills. Hershberger and his staff plan to help him reach his full potential.
“I expect him to work hard on developing his body, getting in the weight room, getting on the long toss, and getting into the five-day rotation,” Hershberger said. “We are going to develop his arm. We are going to work on his pitches – just seeing him develop physically and mentally. He’s a good pitcher now – I think he has the potential to be a Division I pitcher down the line from the left side.”