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Friday, May 6, 2016

Niehaus fueling Blue Knights successful run

Friday, March 30, 2012

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Zac Niehaus watches the plate intently while playing rightfield for Olney Central. [Order this photo]
By CAREY FOX

Times Sports Editor

Zac Niehaus was one of the top baseball players to come through Northview High School and not surprisingly he has continued his success in the collegiate ranks. The former Knight joined the Olney Central baseball program to further hone his talents under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Dennis Conley.

Niehaus joined former Northview teammate Caleb Mason, who had previously signed with the Blue Knights. The connection between the schools has long been in place as Brady Shoemaker, T.J. King, Brad Pierce, Bowie Johnson and current Northview head baseball coach Scott McDonald all played for OCC. Shoemaker is currently playing in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Niehaus played sparingly early on this season as the Blue Knights came roaring out of the gate with seven straight wins. However, as the season has progressed, Niehaus has become an integral part of the team that has gone 26-5 this season following a 7-2 win over Harper College on Wednesday afternoon.

While he had to bide his time early on, Niehaus admits that there was an adjustment period moving from high school to college baseball.

"It's been good, I've been getting my feet wet. I've gotten a little more playing time as the season has gone on," Niehaus said following Wednesday's contest. "The team is playing great and winning the majority of our games. We've got a lot of great players on our team. The pitching is definitely a level up from where it was in high school and even summer baseball. It's new and I'm making adjustments."

He isn't the only Wabash Valley product that has made a successful move to the Blue Knights as former Shakamak Laker, T.J. Hill, improved to 5-0 as a starting pitcher after a weekend win over Lincoln Trail College. Terre Haute South grad John Robert Patterson and West Vigo's Zach Kent are each pitchers along with Viking teammate Ryan Crowther.

"We've got Zach Kent and Caleb Mason, who is here, but he had the injury. He's still here and John Robert (Patterson), so there are some guys from around (the Wabash Valley). They are all doing really well," Niehaus said of the local products.

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Niehaus makes a leaping stab at a flyball in rightfield. [Order this photo]
He also noted that playing against a high level of competition during the summer with Wayne Newton Post 346 in American Legion play has also helped his transition to college.

"(Playing legion baseball) helped out a lot. Coach Hayes is a great man and he's done a lot for us," Niehaus said. "It's the same way for Coach Conley. He's done a lot for our players and we've come around and played well together and it's been a great transition."

The opportunity to play for a coach of Conley's caliber was also an important factor in Niehaus choosing Olney Central to continue his baseball career.

Conley has more than 30 years of coaching experience and has amassed 29 straight winning seasons and 26 consecutive seasons with more than 30-plus wins. He has also coached 36 former Blue Knights, who have gone on to play professionally and better than 200 that have gone on to play at four-year colleges.

"Coach Conley has a little bit of a different style than I'm used to, but I've adjusted and done my best to make him happy with what I can do on the field," Niehaus said. "Getting to know the team has been different than any other team I've played on. It's been fun adjusting to everything. Living in a different area has been fun too."

Playing rightfield for OCC, Niehaus has excelled in recent games with three hits in two different games last weekend against Lincoln Trail College, including a two RBI game as part of a 3-for-4 day at the plate in a 7-6 victory over the Statesmen. Against Vincennes University, Niehaus had a hit in his only official at-bat and drove in a run for the Blue Knights on March 21.

Olney Central continues its season today with a trip to Mattoon, Ill. for a game at noon (CDT).