By STEVE KRAH
Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.
The players come from working class families.
Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.
“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.
“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”
For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.
This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.
These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.
“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.
Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.
“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”
Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.
Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.
As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”
When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.
“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”
A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.
Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.
“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”
Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.
“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.
“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”
Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.