Head coach Rick Heller completed his fourth season in charge of the Indiana State baseball program in 2013, leading the Sycamores to their fifth consecutive winning season on the diamond. ISU reached the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament for the third time in the last four seasons, finishing the season with a 26-25 record.
2013 was the 26th year of head coaching experience for Heller, who currently holds a 692-563-4 overall record. Head coach Heller became the 28th head baseball coach in Indiana State history when he was hired on August 14, 2009, with his previous 22 years were split between a 12-year run at Upper Iowa University and 10 years at the University of Northern Iowa. In his four seasons at ISU, Heller holds a 131-91 record, earning his 100th win on Saturday, May 5, 2012, with a 6-3 victory over Wichita State.
Indiana State’s current run of five consecutive winning seasons is their longest since a 17-year run of winning seasons from 1977 to 1993, including the program’s only College World Series appearance in 1986.
Four Sycamores earned All-MVC honors in 2013, led by junior Sean Manaea and senior Koby Kraemer both being named Second Team All-MVC. Manaea highlighted the 2013 MLB Draft, being selected at No. 34 overall by the Kansas City Royals. The draft selection was the second-highest in ISU baseball program history and the 16th Sycamore to either be drafted or sign as a free agent with a professional club since 2009.
Heller led the Sycamores to their first outright Missouri Valley Conference championship in school history and back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995 during the record-setting 2012 season. Indiana State finished 41-19 in 2012, going 14-7 in the conference play to claim the regular season crown and earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The postseason appearance was the eighth in school history for the Sycamores and their first since winning the MVC Tournament in 1995. ISU also broke the 40-win barrier this past season, their first since 1992 and tallied their most overall wins since 1991.
Heller was named the Dan Callahan MVC Coach of the Year in 2012 after the record-setting campaign, with numerous members of the team earning individual awards. Junior Jeremy Lucas earned the Joe Carter MVC Player of the Year award, the first student-athlete in ISU history to earn the league's MVP. Junior Dakota Bacus was named the MVC Newcomer of the Year, while eight members of the team were named All-MVC. Following the season, Bacus (9th round, Oakland), Lucas (12th round, Cleveland) and senior Brandon Dorsett (Free Agent, Toronto) all signed contracts to begin their professional careers.
The successful 2012 season came after a strong finish to the 2011 campaign that saw the Sycamores secure their third straight winning season with a run to the semifinals of the MVC Tournament. The Sycamores finished 29-28 in 2011, going 8-13 in conference play and earning the sixth seed in the conference tournament. ISU eliminated the third-seeded Illinois State Redbirds before pushing the second-seeded Wichita State Shockers to an elimination game for a spot in the championship game. ISU's spot in the semifinals was their deepest run since 2002.
Heller also recorded his 600th career win in 2011, as senior Jason Van Skike threw the first nine-inning no-hitter at Indiana State since 1949 in an 8-0 victory over Central Arkansas on Saturday, March 5.
The 2011 Sycamores were one of the top defensive teams in the country placing 20th in fielding percentage and only making 11 fielding errors during MVC play. The Sycamores also placed 42nd in the country in hits allowed per nine innings. Sophomores Robby Ort and Jeremy Lucas both earned All-MVC selections. Four members of the pitching staff signed professional contracts following the season, with Colin Rea, Blake Drake, Jason Van Skike and Brett Merkley all moving on to continue their baseball careers.
Heller led the Sycamores to a 35-19 record in his first season at the helm, the most wins for any first-year head coach in ISU baseball history. Indiana State finished in third place in the MVC standings in 2010 and was one of two teams within the conference to receive votes in national polls during the season. Jacob Petricka was selected in the second round of the MLB draft, the 63rd overall pick by the Chicago White Sox. Ryan Strausborger was selected by the 16th round by Texas Rangers while Joe Rodriguez and Ben Ferrell also signed professional contracts in 2010. Strausborger won the prestigious Rawlings Gold Award for his defensive ability in centerfield. Nine members of the 2010 squad were named All-MVC, led by Jacob Petricka and Ryan Strausborger on the First Team. As a team the Sycamores finished in 5th place nationally in fielding percentage.
During his tenure at UNI, Heller's teams won 270 games, including one Missouri Valley Conference championship and NCAA Regional Berth. While building the Panthers into an annual contender, Heller coached three MVC Most Valuable Players, one MVC Pitcher of the Year and helped put 22 players in professional baseball.
Before taking over the Northern Iowa program prior to the 2000 season, Heller spent 12 years as a head coach at Upper Iowa University, a Division III institution. While at Upper Iowa, Heller recorded a 291-194-3 overall record and was named the Iowa Conference Coach of the Year four times.
While at UNI, Heller's teams broke a total of 57 team or individual records, including setting team records for hits, runs batted in, doubles and extra base hits during the 2001 season. Heller led the Panthers to four MVC tournaments, winning the Championship in 2001 with All-American Ryan Brunner claiming the league MVP award and All-American Nic Ungs taking home Pitcher of the Year honors. Under Heller's coaching, 22 Northern Iowa players have gone on to play professional baseball, including current minor leaguers Brandon Douglas, Taylor Sinclair, Guido Fonseca and Nic Ungs. The Panthers recorded back-to-back 30-plus win seasons in 2001 and 2002 for the first time in school history and set the school single-season record at 35 wins in 2001.
UNI's NCAA Regional appearance in 2001 was the school's first since becoming Division I in 1981. Heller also coached two Academic All-Americans in Travis Welsch and Ryan Brunner.
Heller arrived at Upper Iowa in the fall of 1987 and quickly turned things around, earning his first Iowa Conference Coach of the Year honor in 1989. One year later, he led Upper Iowa to its first winning season in 17 years. In 1993, Heller won his first conference championship, and the first in 20 years, while advancing to the NCAA Division III Regional's.
Heller's team won the Iowa Conference and advanced to the NCAA Regional's again in 1995. His team finished 19th in the national rankings and he won his third Coach of the Year honor. He repeated Coach of the Year honors again in 1996 when the Peacocks won the Iowa Conference and Central Regional to advance to the NCAA Division III College World Series. His team finished the year ranked sixth nationally and he was named NCAA Division III Central Region Coach of the Year. That 39-12 team also set a school record for wins.
In 1997, his team was ranked seventh nationally in the pre-season poll and won the Iowa Conference Tournament. In 1998, his team reached as high as 10th nationally while finishing with a 38-8 record to set a school record for winning percentage. His final UIU team finished 30-15-1 and finished third in the Iowa Conference while setting five school records.
As a player at Upper Iowa from 1982-86, he was a four-year starter at shortstop and he also lettered in football and basketball. He is a member of the Upper Iowa Athletic Hall of Fame.
Heller is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and serves on the ABCA All-American Committee. He is also a member of the Indiana and Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Associations. In 2008 he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Heller has three daughters - Tara, Alyssa and Vivienne. He and his wife, Rachelle, live in the Terre Haute.