Capping off his two-season tenure with Erie-Prophetstown by winning a Class 2A Pecatonica Regional title, baseball coach Michael Hart is now trading in his Panthers red and black for Golden Warriors blue and gold.
Hart announced Tuesday he has stepped down as EP’s coach to join Nick Pepper’s coaching staff at Sterling.
“He’s set up a nice winning culture there,” Hart said of the job Pepper has done with the Warriors over the past 7 years building Sterling baseball up from a five-win 2015 season to back-to-back regional titles in 2017 and 2018.
Hart was not actively looking to make a move, but already lived in Sterling, and when a teaching position came open in the district, he applied. With one child at home and another on the way, the shorter commute to Gartner Park was an attractive feature of being part of the Warriors program.
“Obviously having some head coaching experience, and some experience up in the Chicago suburbs, he brings a lot of knowledge to our program,” Pepper said. “I think it’s going to help develop some of our younger kids. Having a guy that, from talking to him, he believes a lot of the same things I believe in.”
Hart said that in his talks with Pepper, he learned that the two share some philosophies about baseball. They use many of the same charts, both feel quality at-bats are crucial, and share an opinion on many of the keys to winning baseball.
Hart took over at Erie-Prophetstown from Jason Orman, going 10-13 in his first season with the Panthers before a breakout year this spring in which Erie-Prophetstown went 17-10 and won a regional title before falling to defending state champion Hall in the Byron Sectional semifinal.
“I’m most proud of how this season turned out,” Hart said.
Hart will be succeeded at Erie-Prophetstown by Brad Tichler, who had been one of his assistants with the Panthers. He takes over a team that will return nine players next spring, including five who were in the starting lineup when the Panthers faced Winnebago in the regional championship game.
“I’ve been the sophomore coach up until 2017, so I’ve known the kids and seen them come through with other sports,” Tichler said. “I think that will make the transition easier.”
Tichler was part of Morrison’s coaching staff from 2003 through 2010 under Scott Vance before joining Orman.
“I’m going to pull from what I learned from Coach Vance and Coach Orman,” Tichler said. “It starts with pitching and defense and trying to get that timely hit.”