By STEVE KRAH
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.
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.
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