By STEVE KRAH
With a new sense of stability and direction, the baseball program at River Forest High School in Hobart has turned things around.
With head coach Michael Kosinski and assistant Mark Zimmerle providing the guidance, the Ingots have been molded into a competitive squad.
Kosinski played four varsity seasons at River Forest before graduating in 2009. With four different head coaches, the Ingots won a total of 15 games.
Good enough as a right-handed pitcher to be recruited by Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Kosinski joined the Pumas. Because of financial issues, he only stayed a half year. But he soaked up all the baseball he could from head coach Rick O’Dette (now at Saint Leo University in Florida since the closing of SJC following the 2017 season) and the rest of the squad.
“I would watch everything that went on,” says Kosinski.
He put the knowledge to good use when he returned home.
“I always wanted to coach, but I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity at such a young age,” says Kosinski. “I took the opportunity and ran with it.”
The 2018 season marks Zimmerle’s 10th with River Forest and eighth with Kosinski. Zimmerle was head coach when Kosinski came back and the two traded roles before the 2015 campaign.
“We’ve built up a great relationship and we are where we are now,” says Kosinski. “We’ve done as good a job as we can with the talent’s that’s presented to us. We’ve taken less and gotten more out of it.
“A lot of our guys have bought into the program and that’s a big thing.”
During the school day, Zimmerle is head of buildings and grounds and Kosinski is head custodian.
As baseball coaches, the two have stressed repetition, fundamentals and trust and watched the Ingots set single-season school records for wins in both 2015 and 2016, going 15-14 in each of those springs. The 2017 squad posted a 14-13 mark.
“Repetition and fundamentals — that’s what we preach,” says Kosinski. “We want it to become muscle memory.”
When college players come around Ingot practices, they see the same kinds of things being done that they do at their schools.
“Nothing is better there,” says Kosinski. “It’s just said differently.”
Kosinski tends to work with pitchers and catchers and Zimmerle directs the offensive side of things.
“He explains it better,” says Kosinski.
River Forest is an IHSAA Class 2A school that has been competing in the Whiting Sectional. The Ingots are still looking for their first sectional hardware.
The eight baseball-playing schools in the Greater South Shore Conference are River Forest, Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting. For 2018, league teams will play home-and-home two-game series on Mondays and Tuesdays.
With this set-up, GSSC teams will have to use more than one starting pitcher against any given conference opponent.
Last season, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (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).
“It’s kind of what we’ve been doing,” says Kosinski. “Our (starters) get four or five days rest. (The new rule) also creates a whole different dynamic. Boone Grove pitched (their ace) a lot before the rule. They were a different team when he wasn’t on the mound. That’s what I like about it.”
Kosinski also has a different take on collecting a game’s 21 outs.
“I used to throw everything hard and try to strike everyone out,” says Kosinski. “(Right-hander) Ryan Slavey (who now plays at nearby Calumet College of St. Joseph) led the state and set a school record for us with 155 strikeouts (in 91 1/3 innings) in 2015. Now, I’d rather you get 18 ground balls and a couple pop-ups and get us through the week.”
Kosinski notes that River Forest right-hander Anthony Rodriguez had never earned a varsity letter in any sport before tossing 45 2/3 innings for the Ingots as a junior last spring.
“He was phenomenal,” says Kosinski. Right-handers Josiah Zambrana (51 innings) and Milan Wendrickx (40) are both expected back for the their senior and junior years, respectively.
“We will base our pitching rotation off what wins we can get,” says Kosinski.
The Ingots recently began fall workouts and had around 30 players come out on the first day. River Forest has only a varsity squad and Kosinski and Zimmerle generally keep 15 to 18 players. The school’s on-campus field got its first electronic scoreboard in 2017.
While there is no formal feeder system for the Ingots, players do come from Lake Station Little League. Once junior high basketball is complete, Kosinski expects to get around 10 seventh and eighth graders — future Ingots — to come out and help with the varsity team.
“The seventh grade class is what we’re really banking on,” says Kosinski of a group that was coached at Lake Station Little League as fifth graders by Scott Galligan.
Michael Kosinski, a 2009 River Forest High School graduate, heads into his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. He was an Ingots assistant for four seasons before taking over the program in 2015.