Former Homestead, IPFW pitcher Weaver now hurling for Gary SouthShore RailCats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Weaver went undrafted by Major League Baseball at the close of his college career.

But the 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher did not let that keep him from becoming a professional.

Weaver, who toed the rubber for Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Taylor University in Upland, Ind., Vincennes University and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, earned his first paycheck for pitching with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom in the independent Frontier League in 2013. He was an FL All-Star in 2014.

Appearing in 49 games (45 as a starter) with 17 victories, he was with Florence until August of 2015.

That’s when he signed with the Miami Marlins organization and hurled 22 innings with 19 strikeouts and three walks with short-season Batavia.

In 2016, Weaver went 9-5 with Low Class-A Greensboro. He fanned 72 and walked just 10 in 83 innings. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.04.

But he also hurt his elbow. Weaver underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery Oct. 25, 2016 and missed the entire 2017 season.

Weaver worked hard on getting back. He went to 2018 spring training with the Marlins only to be released a few weeks later.

He had played at Homestead for coach Steve Sotir with one season each at Taylor for Kyle Gould and at Vincennes for Chris Barney and two at IPFW for Bobby Pierce.

After his released, the Fort Wayne head coach welcomed Weaver to practice when he asked to throw to Mastodons catchers.

“I still stay in touch with Bobby all the time,” says Weaver of Pierce. “He’s a great guy.”

Florence still held Weaver’s contract and could have returned to the Freedom, but wanted to try his luck in the independent American Association.

“I’m a big family guy,” says Weaver, 27. “I wanted my mom to come watch and support. I feel like this is the best fit of all the teams in the American Association.”

Chuck’s mother and stepfather — Susan Abbott and Rod Abbott — as well as stepbrothers — Ryan Abbott and Ray Abbott — are all in the Fort Wayne area. They’re about 150 miles from Gary.

So Florence manager Dennis Pelfrey, who coached four seasons for Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Greg Tagert, recommended Weaver to the AA club based in northwest Indiana.

Weaver made his first start for Gary — a no-decision — Sunday, May 20 at U.S. Steel Yard.

He goes to the mound with a fastball, change-up and slider.

The majority of his fastballs are of the two-seam variety. However, he does have a four-seamer.

When he was making his way back from surgery with the Marlins, Weaver was reunited with former Florence pitching coach Chad Rhoades.

Rhoades, who pitched for Gary in 2012, coached pitchers at short-season Batavia in 2016 and later served as Marlins rehab pitching coordinator. In the latter role, he helped Weaver add a four-seam heater to his repertoire.

Like the majority of players in independent baseball, Weaver is looking to showcase himself for MLB-affiliated teams.

He explained the dynamic.

“You see more of a drive for the game and more desire to play (in indy ball),” says Weaver. “In affiliated, I feel a lot of the guys took it serious but not as serious as the guys here.

“It was more individualized in affiliated and it’s more (team-oriented) here. People are helping each other.”

While developing in an affiliated system, players may spend a lot of time working on one particular element of their game and teams are not focused as much on winning as getting the player up the chain toward the big league team.

“Guys would go out there and throw only fastballs because they had to work on fastball command,” says Weaver of affiliated ball. “Here, you’re trying to get that shot. You want to showcase all your stuff.

What does Weaver see as his strengths?

“I’m a real hard worker,” says Weaver. “I wasn’t drafted, but I felt like a pushed my way (to affiliated baseball). I have to continue to push myself.

“Even if I’m tired after a long bus ride, I have to take it serious and get my work in. I can’t be lazy about it.

“It’s my job.”

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Chuck Weaver, a Homestead High School graduate who also pitched for Taylor University, Vincennes University, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and in the Miami Marlins organization among others, is now with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. (Gary SouthShore RailCats Photo)

 

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Following culture of hard work, IU Kokomo Cougars win 31 games in inaugural baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University Kokomo got off to a slow start in its first collegiate baseball season then came roaring down the stretch.

The NAIA-affiliated Cougars, led by head coach Matt Howard, lost the first four games of 2018 then went on to post a couple seven-game win streaks and finished 31-21-1 overall and 16-11 in the River States Conference. IUK lost to Midway in the RSC tournament semifinals.

“We have a good group of guys,” says Howard. “We had a pretty balanced team. Pitchers kept us in ball games early in the year. Our batters came around late.

“With the success we had last year and being able to add some guys, it should be a pretty exciting year for us (in 2019).”

IUK hit .303 as a team, stole 67 bases and outscored opponents 397-261.

“We shoot for 100 bags a year and we were well short of our goal,” says Howard, who saw junior center fielder Tavon Lindsay (20) and freshman left fielder Jared Heard (19) paced the Cougars in pilfered bases. “We like to play aggressive, fast-paced and put as much pressure on the defense as we possibly can.

“Speed doesn’t slump.”

Among regulars, Heard (New Castle) at .347, Lindsay (Port Lucie, Fla.) at .346, freshman second baseman Max McKee (Shenandoah) at .344 and junior designated hitter Dalton Clarke (Newmarket, Ont.) at .320 were batting leaders.

Heard collected 58 hits and drove in 40 runs. Lindsay wound up with 66 hits and 39 RBI. Clarke popped seven home runs and knocked in 52 runs.

Bolstering the pitching staff was junior right-hander Renton Poole (Bloomington South) and freshman left-handers Owen Callaghan (Hamilton Southeastern) and Noah Richardson (Lafayette Central Catholic).

Poole made 14 appearances (12 starts) and was 7-2 with a 2.28 earned run average and 98 strikeouts in 79 innings.

In 14 appearances (13 starts), Callaghan was 7-5 with 2.92 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 71 innings.

Richardson took the mound 16 times (11 as a starter) and was 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings.

Howard wants to have 40 players by the fall and is now on the recruiting trail.

“This is the time where we shore up our roster,” says Howard. “We identify the talent, find the Class of 2019 graduates and try to get them on campus in the summer or later fall so you can get some early commitments.

Howard is “looking for players that make us better and fit our culture.”

And just what does that mean?

“Our culture is one of hard work and dedication to the sport,” says Howard. “We push our guys very hard.

“When our guys go on the field, they expect and deserve to win because they’ve worked harder than the guys on the other side.”

To hone their skills and competitive edge even sharper, several IUK players have been placed in competitive summer collegiate baseball leagues.

Howard is a graduate of Slippery Rock University and managed the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League prior to helping to build the IUK program from scratch.

Indiana University Kokomo plays its home games on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium — the same facility used by the Jackrabbits and Kokomo High School.

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Matt Howard led Indiana University Kokomo to 31 victories in their first season of college baseball in 2018. (IU Kokomo Photo)

 

From San Juan Capistrano to Valpo, Ferketic enjoys baseball odyssey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trey Ferketic was with his third college baseball program — all in California — when he tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder.

Three screws were inserted in that right shoulder, the one that helped him make high-speed deliveries for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego.

The very first intrasquad scrimmage in late September at UCSD, Ferketic tore the labrum.

There were doubts about his ability to bounce back.

“Coaches and teammates told me I’d never pitch again,” says Ferketic. “I wanted to prove it to myself and anyone else that I could.”

Ferketic pitched in four games and worked 3 2/3 innings for UCSD in 2016, but the pain was just too great and he was shut down.

Thinking he had played his last, Ferketic finished his communications degree at the NCAA Division II school in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.

There was a sense of closure.

But rehabbing the injury, Ferketic got the idea he could still pitch and he wanted to do it at the Division I level — like he had in 2015 with the “Dirtbags” of Long Beach, where he made six appearances for 9 1/3 innings.

So he appealed to the NCAA to give him back a year of eligibility, claiming a medical hardship.

He was turned down the first time.

On the second try, he provided more information.

A lot more information.

Ferketic turned in more than 60 pages of paperwork.

“It was super extensive,” says Ferketic, who had to submit all his academic records from all his college stops, including summer classes taken elsewhere, and all his medical records. “It was a ton of work.”

This time, he was granted another year. He reached out to some of his connections. He had been recruited by Valparaiso University coming out of junior college ball at Saddleback and that’s where he decided his baseball odyssey would take him next.

“After I got my shoulder surgery, I wanted to play somewhere and I thought it be awesome to come out here and play in front of some new eyes and come to all these new states, new teams and places I’d never heard of,” says Ferketic. “That’s why I chose to come out here.”

Alerted to Ferketic’s availability by cousin and Next College Student Athlete representative Jim Sak, Valparaiso head coach Brian Schmack liked what he saw in bullpen session videos so he brought the Californian to northwest Indiana.

“He knows how to handle his business,” says Schmack of the graduate student. “He shows the younger guys how it’s supposed to be.

“We brought him out here to pitch. He gives us a chance every time.”

Ferketic, who is in the starting rotation for the Crusaders, is not the first graduate transfer for the Crusaders. In fact, he is not the only one on the 2018 squad. There’s catcher-infielder Zack Leone, of Pelham Manor, N.Y.

In 2013, Valpo brought in former Cal State Northridge right-hander Chris DeBoo as a grad transfer.

“He was a mature guy and he knew what it took to be successful,” says Schmack.

Valpo has been very successful in luring California players to play in Indiana.

“We’ve got enough connections out there where we’re getting referrals and maybe a couple of kids from the same high school,” says Schmack. It’s a word-of-mouth type of thing.

“Our thought is to go where the players are. We wanted to find guys who were driven to play baseball and we’ve found a niche out there.

“There’s some kids that say ‘I’m never leaving the state of California.’ There’s other that say ‘I want something new.’ Those guys are really accepting of what we have.”

Ferketic is one of 11 players with California hometowns on the roster. The others are redshirt junior infielder-outfielder Blake Billinger, sophomore outfielder Riley Dent, senior outfielder Giovanni Garbella, sophomore right-hander Michael Hardtke, sophomore right-hander Garrett Hill, senior infielder Chad Jacob, sophomore right-hander Jake Larson, junior left-hander Josh Leaverton, junior right-hander Montana Quigley and junior infielder Sam Shaikin.

There’s also two from Arizona — senior infielder-outfielder Jayden Eggiman and sophomore right-hander Easton Rhodehouse.

Ferketic has enjoyed the transition.

“It’s been awesome out here in the Midwest,” says Ferketic. “What sticks out to me is the seasons. In California, we don’t have seasons at all.

“Pitching in 35 degrees, snow and rain has been crazy. I have more respect now for this part of the country for people who have to grind through that. It’s been cool to experience that.”

Another thing is the different styles of baseball.

“On the West Coast, there’s a lot of ‘small ball’ and playing for one run. It’s pitching- and defense-dominated,” says Ferketic. “Out here, these guys swing for the fences. There’s home runs almost every game.”

Sometimes the wind blowing out favors Valpo and other times it works to the advantage of the opponent.

“You’d like to think it evens out over the course of the year — at least you want to believe that,” says Ferketic.

He expresses appreciation for what Valpo coaches — Schmack, full-time assistants Ben Wolgamot and Nic Mishler and volunteer Kory Winter — have done for him.

“They have a lot of trust in their players,” says Ferketic. “It’s a lot easier to play and it takes a lot of pressure off, knowing the coach believes in you and wants you to succeed.”

A focus on the mechanical side has been keeping him directional rather than rotational (with his shoulder flying open).

“I’m a sinker guy and I play off movement,” says Ferketic. “I need to be linear or it goes where I don’t want it to go. I need to have that downhill plane.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

As a graduate student, Ferketic is working toward a masters degree in sports administration and will likely finish in December.

He chose that route to stay closer to athletics and can see himself running a training facility, scouting program or sporting goods operation.

But he’s still a player right now and he’s soaking that up.

“I would love to play more baseball,” says Ferketic. “I can’t imagine hanging them up. It’s going to be a sad day when I do.

“But I don’t know what my shoulder’s got left. I really don’t. It’s kind of on borrowed time.”

Valpo (18-32) is seeded No. 7 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Dallas and plays No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist Wednesday, May 23. The event continues through Saturday, May 26. The winner earns an NCAA tournament berth.

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Valparaiso University’s Trey Ferketic delivers a pitcher in 2018. He is a graduate transfer from California in his only season with the Crusaders. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic pitched for JSerra Catholic High School, Saddleback College, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego before landing with Valparaiso (Ind.) Universty in 2018. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic wanted to make his comeback from shoulder surgery at the NCAA Division I level and the California native decided to do it in the Midwest with Valparaiso University. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

 

Giesler going deep a lot in last season for Indiana State Sycamores

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University swept its weekend baseball series at Valparaiso University and now heads to Dallas for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

The Sycamores (29-22) go to “Big D” to play Southern Illinois University on Wednesday, May 23 with their own “Big D.”

Dane Giesler, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt senior first baseman, who smacked home runs in the first and third games against Valpo to raise his season total to 14 and his ISU career roundtripper mark to 32 and moving him into a tie for fourth place all-time Sycamores history with Tyler Thompson.

“I’ve been working with (head) coach (Mitch) Hannahs and my other coaches, trying to pay attention to the fine details and implement them into the game,” says Giesler, a left-handed swinger who takes a .298 average with one triple, seven doubles, 43 runs batted in with a .584 slugging percentage and .427 on-base percentage into the Valley tournament. “For the past couple of years, I’ve been getting pitched a lot tougher. I had to make some adjustments, figuring out pitches and what pitches I’m going to get thrown to me in different counts.”

With 31 homers the past two years, does the 2012 Jasper High School graduate consider himself a power hitter?

“I guess so,” says Giesler. “I’ve been around the game my whole life and being a big kid kind of helps.”

Hannah’s has watched Giesler improve at recognizing pitches and hitting them hard.

“He’s gotten better at handling all pitches and in all zones,” says Hannahs. “That’s where you’ve seen the jump in his power numbers.”

Giesler (proounced GEESE-ler), who played summer collegiate baseball for the Acadiana Cane Cutters (Louisiana) in 2016 and Terre Haute Rex in 2017, has been productive at the plate for years.

Playing for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association  Hall of Famer in head coach Terry Gobert, Gielser helped Jasper to a IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a sophomore in 2010.

He represented the Wildcats in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior in 2012, the same year he was an IHSBCA honorable mention all-state selection and also counts the Indiana Prospects travel ball organization among his baseball stops.

Before landing in Terre Haute, Giesler spent the 2014 season at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., where he hit .365 with six homers, 13 doubles, 53 RBI and 49 runs scored while also earning Academic All-American honors for the Rob Fournier-coached Warriors.

So Giesler, 25, has understood what it means to play at a high level for a long time.

“That was bred into him before he ever left Jasper or ever left Wabash Valley,” says Hannahs. “We got the benefit of a guy who was mature when he came into our program.”

Hannahs says playing for Gobert helps players make the transition to college baseball.

“Terry’s guys learn very quickly to make a commitment and they compete,” says Hannahs. “It’s not a springtime deal down there in Jasper. It’s a year-round commitment. That’s important for guys going to college. We’re not going to jump out in February and play a few games. It’s a year-round commitment.

“The guys who have already had that in the high school setting are ahead of those who have not.”

What did Giesler gain at Jasper?

“Just the high expectations you have to play with there,” says Giesler. “Every team’s coming to beat you. It’s a well-known team throughout Indiana. Everybody knows who you are. You ain’t going to get a bad game from any team.

“You have to come ready to play everyday.”

Dane, the son of Jeff and Angie Giesler, has had family members who know the college baseball experience.

Older cousin Neil Giesler, who collected 138 hits for Jasper and played at the University South Carolina.

“I looked up to my cousin Neil quite a bit, watching him grow up,” says Dane Giesler of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Famer.

Neil’s father, Stan, played at Murray State University and mother Nancy, attended Indiana State.

Younger cousin Mark Giesler took to the diamond at the University of Dayton.

Fournier’s Wabash Valley clubs competed against those led by Hannahs when the current ISU head coach was in charge of the Lincoln Trail College Statesmen.

“He does a very good job with his club year in and year out,” says Hannahs of Fournier, who picked up his 900th career coaching win this spring.

“Rob taught me how to compete,” says Giesler of Fournier. “You go out and play because you love the game (in junior college baseball).

“There’s nothing pretty about it.”

Giesler, who graduated with a degree in business administration, has thoroughly enjoyed being a teammate at ISU.

“It’s the team camaraderie and getting to know new guys every year and they become best friends during the season,” says Giesler.

Giseler and his buddies are the No. 4 seed in the MVC tournament. Southern Illinois is No. 5. The event at Dallas Baptist University’s Horner Ballpark has two, four-team brackets in a double-elimination format. The winners of the two brackets will play in the championship game Saturday, May 26. The tournament will receive an NCAA Division I tournament bid.

And what about Giesler’s baseball career after college?

“If a (professional) team will give me a shot, I’d love to play,” says Giesler.

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler swings the bat against Purdue University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler runs the bases against Missouri State University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)

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Indiana State University’s Dane Giesler addresses the pitcher against Western Illinois University in 2018. (Indiana State Athletic Communications Photo)

Swartzentruber’s career and baseball path leads him to Lake Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man from the lower left corner of the Indiana map has made it to the upper left.

And he’s enjoyed high school baseball coaching success in his new home at Lake Central.

Mike Swartzentruber graduated from Washington (Ind.) High School in 1990 then Oakland City University and began his teaching and coaching career at North Posey.

In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.

The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.

Three LC players from the Class of 2018 — second baseman Justin Graves, first baseman Conner Hoffman and outfielder Ray Hilbrich (who is out for the rest of the season with an injury) — have committed to play college baseball for the elder Griffin, who is now head coach at Purdue Northwest.

From North Posey, Swartzentruber moved to Martinsville High School for a seven-season stint.

“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.

“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”

He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.

“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.

“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”

The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.

Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.

“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”

Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.

Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.

Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.

“I knew the history,” says Swartzentruber. “I knew Coach (Jeff) Sandor had won a (Class 4A) state championship in 2012. I knew about all the 20-win seasons.”

Iwema put in words of recommendation for Swartzentruber. They now are colleagues in the business department at LC.

Iwema is an assistant to Brian Jennings at Griffith. Swartzentruber and Iwema share notes on common opponents.

After achieving a 23-9 mark and the latest of the program’s 18 sectional titles in 2017, Swartzentruber’s 2018 LC Indians are 22-5. On Wednesday, Lake Central beat Chesterton for the Duneland Athletic Conference championship. Other teams in the DAC are Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso.

The Munster Sectional, which also features East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland and Lowell, is next week.

Lake Central just celebrated Senior Night and seven players from that class have committed to play college baseball. Besides Graves, Hoffman and Hilbrich, there’s shortstop Conner Tomasic (Purdue University), left-handed pitcher Marty Ewing (Indiana University South Bend), left fielder Giovanni Lopez (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and catcher Hunter Zahorsky (South Suburban College).

From Swartzentruber’s first LC team in 2017, Ben Nisle went on to Purdue, Joe Graziano to Butler University, Matt Litwicki to Indiana University, Kyle Freel to Purdue Northwest, Jarrett Lopez to Indiana Tech, Nick Bandura to Indiana Wesleyan, Chris Fundich to Danville Area Community College and Tyler Frank to play football at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.

“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.

“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.

“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”

Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.

“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”

Grant Weinmann, who played at Lowell High School and went to the University of Louisville, is LC’s pitching coach.

“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”

Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.

“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.

John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.

Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.

Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.

“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.

“My biggest influence is my dad.”

Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.

Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.

“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.

“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”

At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.

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After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.

 

Family life brings Neal closer to home with Attica Ramblers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball has taken Kyle Neal away from his home and it’s brought him back.

Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County. He also teaches physical education and strength training.

The Neal family — Kyle, Christie, Carson (7) and Krew (9 months) — live in Veedersburg. That’s about 10 miles from the school.

When Royce Carlton left for Shelbyville, leaving an opening at Attica for a coach and teacher, Neal decided to apply for be closer to his wife and sons

The past four years, Neal has been making a commute of more than a hour each way to teach and to be head baseball coach — first at North Newton Junior/Senior High School in Morocco and then Frontier Junior/Senior High School in Chalmers.

Neal coached North Newton to 20- and 18-win seasons in his two seasons leading the program (2014 and 2015). The Spartans were put out of the IHSAA sectional both years by Lafayette Central Catholic.

In two seasons of guiding the Frontier Falcons, Neal saw the team win 15 and eight games.

As the Attica Ramblers get ready for the Class 1A Rockville Sectional, they look back on a 7-14 regular season. Attica and Rockville are paired in the first game of the sectional Wednesday, May 23. Other teams in the field are Covington, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke and Turkey Run.

Attica is in the Wabash River Conference (along with Covington, Fountain Central, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke, Seeger, South Vermillion and Turkey Run).

Neal grew up in Ladoga in Mongomery County. His earliest baseball experiences came at Ladoga Little League.

Between his eighth grade and freshmen year, he played for the traveling Montgomery County All-Stars and also for the Southmont High School summer team.

Neal learned fundamentals from Mounties coach Jerry Long and logged a few innings on the mound as a freshman, gleaning much from a senior catcher.

In 1998, Neal was part of a Southmont team that lost to eventual 2A state runner-up Evansville Mater Dei in the semifinals of the Richmond Semistate.

His last two high school years, Neal attended Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg. At the time, the school was not affiliated with the IHSAA.

But Neal picked up plenty of know-how from coach Bill Sampen, a former major league pitcher.

“He was a huge part of my growth in baseball,” says Neal of Sampen, who runs the Indiana Expos travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack training facility. “He was real big on thinking the game of baseball. He’s just a smart guy.

“We still talk today and share ideas.”

In the summer between his freshmen and sophomore years, Neal played more for Southmont plus the Indiana Vipers and Crawfordsville American Legion Post 72.

The next summer, he switched to the Indiana Bulldogs and also played for the other two squads.

Leading into his junior year at Bethesda Christian, he again played for the Bulldogs.

He attended many camps before his senior year and wound up with a baseball scholarship to NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State University. He was primarily a reserve second baseman in his one season in Cape Girardeau.

Mark Hogan was the Redhawks head coach. Neal credits SEMO assistant Scott Southard for teaching him the finer points of infield play.

“The coaches there were real supportive of a freshman in Division I baseball, where the speed of the game excelerates tenfold,” says Neal. “I learned to play at a higher pace and saw different kinds of pitching.”

Neal spent his last year college playing seasons at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, with Mark DeMichael as head coach.

“I learned perseverance and more on the spiritual side of things,” says Neal. “I learned how to handle myself on the field. It was a great experience.”

After his playing days, Neal spent a year gaining knowledge about the coaching profession as an IWU graduate assistant.

He then went into the work world for about seven or eight years, all the while teaching private lessons to stay involved in baseball.

Along the way, he got his teaching degree from Indiana Wesleyan, served three seasons as a Southmont assistant and then took his first head coaching gig at North Newton.

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Kyle Neal, the head baseball coach at Attica Junior/Senior High School, shares a moment with sons Krew (9 months) and Carson (7).

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The Neal family: Kyle and Christy with sons Carson (7) and Krew (9 months). Kyle Neal is in his first season as head baseball coach, physical eduction and strength training teacher at Attica Junior/Senior High School in Fountain County, Ind.

 

Lawler seeing that success breeds success with LaVille Lancers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buying into the multi-sport athlete idea and feeding off the success of other sports, the LaVille Lancers is enjoying a stellar 2018 season under fourth-year head coach Brian Lawler.

Heading into a home game Friday, May 18 against John Glenn, the Lancers are 20-2.

LaVille ran the table in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference, going 14-0. Pioneer (10-4) was second, followed by Knox (8-6), Winamac (7-6), North Judson (7-7), Triton (5-9), Caston (4-9) and Culver Community (0-14). Winamac is to visit Caston in the final HNAC game Friday, May 18.

“We’re a small school,” says Lawler, who coaches and teaches physical education in a LaVille Junior/Senior High building with around 350 students in the top four grades. “We believe in sharing athletes and providing opportunities for kids all year-round.

“We want to give them the best experience they can.”

Athletic director/head football coach Will Hostrawser leads a staff which coordinates their summer workouts so athletes can attend sessions in multiple sports.

Hostrawser has a baseball coaching background.

“He lets all his coaches coach,” says Lawler of Hostrawser. “But he’s always there if we want to pick his brain about something.”

As for success breeding success, two examples come in football and boys basketball. The Lancers went 8-5 on the gridiron last fall and 23-1 on the hardwood last winter.

The past four years, LaVille is 35-14 in football and 76-24 in boys basketball under head coach Michael Edison. Corey Duncan’s girls basketball squad was 16-8 in 2017-18.

Before playing baseball at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University and earning his teaching degree at Bethel College, Lawler was a football and baseball athlete at South Bend St. Joseph High School. He graduated in 1999.

Before coming to LaVille, Lawler was a St. Joseph assistant for eight seasons on the staff of John Gumpf.

What does being a multi-sport athlete mean to him?

“Competing throughout the year and learning lessons from different coaches,” says Lawler. “It’s about being coachable and that translates into whatever sport that kid is doing at the time.”

The HNAC plays home-and-home two-game series with some doubleheaders, making it extra important to develop pitching depth.

“It forces you not the see that No. 1 twice,” says Lawler, who is assisted by Mark Elliot, Scott Wierczorek and Bryce Bustamante. “And with the pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) and our small roster (there’s 15 players in the program for a varsity and junior varsity schedule), we need to get as many pitchers as we can.”

The 2017 Lancers went 20-7 and graduated some quality senior pitchers. The current team has just one senior — first baseman Tyler Hollon. There is also a good mix of juniors, sophomores and a few freshmen.

Lawler counts catcher Reese Gallup and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Devon Schoff among the junior standouts and third baseman Jimmy Fischer, first baseman Isaiah Herbster, right-hander/outfielder Nick Moore and shortstop/right-hander Connor Wieczorek as some of the top sophomores.

LaVille plays its home games on its campus near Lakeville though it does have access to nearby Newton Park should field conditions call for a change of venue.

The Lancers’ non-conference schedule includes Argos, Bethany Christian, Bremen, Culver Military, Jimtown, John Glenn, Oregon-Davis, Rochester, South Bend Adams and South Central.

LaVille is in the IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional along with Bremen, Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. The Lancers have won three sectional baseball titles (1968, 1974, 1991).

Lawler and wife Sara reside in South Bend.

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LaVille Junior/Senior High School baseball coach Brian Lawler (right) poses with lone 2018 senior Tyler Hollon. The Lancers have reached the 20-win plateau again this spring.