Sassanella brings passion to Brebeuf baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Sassanella played baseball with zeal.

A sense of intensity and enthusiasm followed the switch-hitting catcher and first baseman from his days at DeKalb High School, where he graduated in 1997, to professional stops in the Detroit Tigers organization and the with independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters.

He took that energy into coaching at the high school level as a varsity assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop in 2004 (the Bruins won the sectional) and head coach at Fort Wayne South Side from 2005-07.

Meanwhile, Sassanella was entering the financial services world and his family was growing (Jeremy and Kate count six in their blended bunch).

When he moved from northeast Indiana to Indianapolis, he continued in his daytime work (he’s employed by Horizon Planning Group) but maintained his interest in coaching. He led the Mudsox, a Fishers-based travel team, in 2013.

Sassanella joined the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School program as an assistant, but was not actively pursuing high school head coaching positions when a friend and president of the Indianapolis Adult Baseball League, John DeCosta, persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring when the top spot on the Braves staff came open.

With his plate full away from the diamond, Sassanella added one more duty to his list.

“I have a very, very gracious and understanding wife,” says Sassanella. “She knows this is a passion, I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”

Good enough that he led the Braves to a 25-8 record and a Bishop Chatard Sectional crown in his first season as head coach in 2016

“We weren’t playing any patty cakes,” says Sassanella. “The first week I took over, I said to (Brebeuf athletic director) Ted (Hampton), I want to build the best schedule I can.

“Like it or not, it will help us be ready fro the 3A tournament.”

Not only do the Braves compete in the new Circle City Conference (with Chatard, Guerin Catholic and defending 4A state champion Roncalli), the 2017 slate includes Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Zionsville, Indianapolis Cathedral, Andrean and defending 3A state champion Northview — just to name a few.

As a coach, Sassanella takes his own diamond experiences and relates them to teenager ballplayers.

“I want them to have some opportunities and insights I didn’t have,” says Sassanella. “There are things I wish I could go back and tell my 16- or 17-year-old self.

“Playing pro ball was a blessing. I understand what it is to have success and fail at a high level. I was a talented athlete, but I absolutely had to work my butt off to have the success I had.”

Sassanella insists that his players go all out and they know the sport. He and assistants Joe Perkins, Rob Baker and Chris Vale — the latter two played at Purdue — “keep it really simple” while also talking constantly about situations.

“We do drills over and over and over again,” says Sassanella. When something happens in a game, it’s already been covered in practice.

“I hope when baseball people watch us play, they see that,” says Sassanella. “Our kids play hard and fundamentally sound.

“So much of the game is emotional and mental.”

What about the new pitch count rules for 2017?

“With my background, I’m probably overprotective of arms,” says Sassanella. “My top two pitchers threw just over 40 innings apiece (last year).”

The most pitches thrown by a Brebeuf varsity pitcher in 2016 was 103 and that was in the third week of May.

“With the amount of depth we have, I’m never worried about running into pitch count issues,” says Sassanella.

While the private school does not have a traditional feeder system, Sassanella has established an off-season six-week instructional program with open fields for incoming freshmen.

“Brebeuf is going to sell itself and all it is academically and culturally,” says Sassanella. “Everything goes through admissions. Parents want this education first. They’ll seek out Brebeuf and want to be part of our baseball program.”

The coach is also a strong believer in sportsmanship and would like to see umpires do something about cat calling and the like.

“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about respect for the game,” says Sassanella. “I’d crack down on some of the nonsense.

“Do it with grace and dignity and go home.”

BREBEUFJESUITBRAVES

JEREMYSASSANELLA

Jeremy Sassanella is in his second season as head baseball coach at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. The Braves won 25 games and a sectional title in 2016.

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Speedy, versatile South Bend Cubs ready to roll in 2017

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

South Bend is about to begin its third season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate.

Jimmy Gonzalez was the manager for the first two and he’s back for 2017.

The skipper has plenty of nice things to say about the community and the fans (the Cubs drew 350,803 during the 2016 Class-A Midwest League season and owner Andrew Berlin has set a goal of 400,000 for 2017).

“It’s a great town,” says Gonzalez. “There are things to do around here and good restaurants. It’s great to have a minor league affiliate called the Cubs and be so close to Chicago. The support is through the roof.”

Gonzalez leads the ’17 team (Notre Dame visits for a seven-inning exhibition at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 at Four Winds Field before plays two road games Thursday and Friday and the home opener at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, April 8) with a few returnees to South Bend and several who played for short-season Northwest League champion Eugene (Ore.).

The Emeralds, managed by former South Bend coach Jesus Feliciano, went 54-22 during the 2016 regular season.

While there was no pennant (that went to the Lansing Lugnuts), the ’16 campaign saw South Bend go 84-55 during the regular season, make the playoffs and Gonzalez earn MWL Manager of the Year honors.

“There’s a bunch of exciting guys,” says Gonzalez. “They’re coming off a great season last year in Eugene, guys that have won.”

Gonzalez surveys his ’17 South Bend roster and sees fleetness and versatility.

“Speed is going to be a huge factor with this club,” says Gonzalez. “Those speed guys create spark and excitement and a lot of good things happen.”

The swiftest of the Cubs are outfielders D.J. Wilson (21 stolen bases in 2016), Kevonte Mitchell (15) and Chris Pieters (20) and infielder Yeiler Peguero.

Wilson expects to be in center field.

“I have first-step quickness,” says Wilson. “My angles are pretty good.”

Wilson is glad to be back with a group of friends that he played plenty of winning baseball with last summer.

“We had great chemistry last year with the Emeralds and it’s only gotten stronger throughout the spring,” says Wilson, who also looks forward to playing in South Bend since it is closer to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, which should allow friends and family to see him play in 2017.

Mitchell says he could see time in right and left and, possibly, center.

“My base running and my speed (are strengths),” says Mitchell. “I also have a nice arm from the outfield.

“I bring energy to the team.”

All the way up the big league team, the ability to play multiple positions is valued in the Cubs organization. South Bend reflects this philosophy.

“I love having that as an option,” says Gonzalez. “It gives rest to a bunch of guys. (Versatility is) also great for their development.”

The manager says it is likely that Peguero will see time at second base and shortstop with Wladimir Galindo at third base and first base, Isaac Parades at shortstop and third base and Zack Short at shortstop, second base and third base.

Including time in instructional league and spring training, Vimael Machin has played all four infield positions and has been used at catcher.

“That’s a good thing about Vimael,” says Gonzalez. “He is willing and able to do a lot of things.”

Machin, Paredes, catcher Alberto Mineo and right-handed pitchers Jared Cheek and Dakota Mekkes appeared with South Bend in 2016.

“I consider those guys leaders,” says Gonzalez. “Yes, they probably didn’t want to come back here (but move up in the Cubs system). That’s just part of the game. You can mope about it or you can just go out there and play.”

Machin models that team-oriented attitude.

“I’ll do whatever (Gonzalez) tells me to do,” says Machin. “Even if we’re not playing, we’re helping and supporting each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

With the grind of a long season, baseball is a game where slumps and bad days are inevitable.

“It’s important that (the players) know that adversity is going to come,” says Gonzalez. “How are they going to handle it? Are they going to get down and just not perform moving forward and understand that’s going to happen.

“Whether you’re 5-for-5 or 0-for-5, that sixth at-bat is another at-bat. You can’t change what you just did. It’s written down. You always have that moment to do something.”

Because it translates in games, Gonzalez says the concept of staying in the moment was an emphasis of the Cubs mental skills program during spring training.

Flame-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease has embraced the mentality and does not dwell on the future.

“It’s the process over the result,” says Cease. “I just expect to stay in my process and do as good as a I can.

“I feel really good about my mechanics. It just comes down to executing … I’m just focused on being the best ballplayer I can be and getting better.”

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence has watched Cease progress well since having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in June 2015, but there will be a learning curve in 2017.

“He’s never thrown meaningful pitches in April before,” says Lawrence. “He’s going to have to get through his first full season. He has to learn what he has. What he’s shown from last year through spring training is tremendous. He has command of all his pitches.”

Cease is part of a starting rotation that right-handers Duncan Robinson, Kyle Miller, Tyson Miller, Erling Moreno and Matt Swarmer and left-hander Manuel Rondon. Lawrence says there will be a few “piggyback” situations where one pitcher will start and another starter will take over. Left-handers Bryan Hudson and Jose Paulino may join the team from extended spring training in the coming weeks.

“This is going to be a fun team to play with,” says Tyson Miller. “I’ve just got to execute pitches. I want to throw the most innings I can with the least amount of pitches.

“I just need to get better with my pitching I.Q. and knowing how to set up hitters.”

Lawrence says starters will be limited to 80 pitches to start the season.

The bullpen features 6-foot-7 righty Dakota Mekkes and 5-8 lefty Wyatt Short and several other arms who will get work.

“We won’t go back-to-back (days) for quite awhile (with relievers),” says Lawrence. “We do have a lot of guys who can pitch at the end of the game. We have a lot of options.”

NDSBCUBS2017

Teenagers big part of excitement for 2017 Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana has a number of talented teenagers on the diamond.

Not all of those are wearing high school uniforms.

Some are professionals.

As the the Fort Wayne TinCaps (affiliate of the San Diego Padres) get ready to being the 2017 Class-A Midwest League season, they sport a roster with six teenagers and four 20-year olds.

“There’s been a lot of hype and talk about this group,” says Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras, who returns for a second season as skipper at Parkview Field. “I want to see what it looks like under the bright lights.

“It’s going to be fun to watch them.”

Fernando Tatis Jr. will be the TinCaps’ 18-year-old shortstop when the season opens Thursday, April 6 at Bowling Green (the home opener is at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday, April 8).

“He’s a very dynamic young player,” says Contreras of the 6-foot-3 power-hitting athlete from the Dominican Republic. “He’s got some of the best pop I haven’t  seen in awhile.”

Contreras expects Tatis to keep things loose while also bringing some of his unique experiences to the team.

“I’m here to have fun and do what I do,” says the son of major leaguer Fernando Tatis Sr. “It’s fun (being around other young players). We have the same mentality.”

The young Tatis grew up around big league clubhouses.

“He knows what it’s like to be a professional in this game,” says Contreras. “He’s going to thrive in this type of atmosphere.”

Contreras (age 33) and his coaching staff will be looked upon to develop the young talent for the Padres.

“There’s a a lot of pressure put not the minor league side,” says Contreras. “They’ve invested a lot of money (in player development).”

With many players who have yet to experience the grind of a 140-game season, the manager knows he will have to manage the inevitable bad days.

“That’s minor league baseball,” says Contreras. “That’s the experience they have to go through. When they move up and get the major leagues, they’re going to fail as well so you want to address it but not dwell on it.

“A lot of these guys are going to go through some slumps for the first time. It’s my job and the staff’s job to keep them focused.”

Besides Tatis, Contreras expects his regulars to include third baseman Hudson Potts (18), second baseman Eguy Rosario (17) with G.K. Young (22) and Brad Zuinca (21) sharing time at first base and Reinaldo Ilarraza, (18) playing various infield positions.

“We should have a very good team, from what I saw in spring training,” says Young. “These young guys don’t play like young guys. They can swing just like grown men.”

Young played with NCAA Division I national champion Coastal Carolina in 2016.

“Going through the College World Series, I understand what it takes to win at a championship level,” says Young. “I can honestly say I was not ready in high school to come and do this, but some things I went through mentally (in college) strengthened me to go through this game.”

Fort Wayne’s outfield includes Jack Suwinski (18) in left, Buddy Reed (21) in center and Jorge Ona (20) in right.

Marcus Greene Jr. (22) and Webster Rivas (26) will take turns at catcher.

A six-man starting pitching rotation includes (in order): right-hander Jesse Scholtens (22), left-hander Logan Allen (19), right-hander Austin Smith (20), left-hander Jerry Keel (23), right-hander Hansel Rodriguez (20) and left-hander Will Headean (23).

Burt Hooton is back for his fifth season as Fort Wayne’s pitching coach.

The 67-year-old is teaching his young arms to “keep things simple and keep progressing.”

“I tell them not to bite off more than they can handle,” says Hooton, who was a big leaguer for 15 seasons.  “You want to master your pitches and take the time to do it.

“You learn from your experiences — both good and bad.”

Fort Wayne’s bullpen includes returnees like right-hander David Bednar (22) and Lou Distasio (23) as well as right-hander Mark Zimmerman (23) and Ben Sheckler (21).

“There are no roles defined,” says Hooton. “They’re in the bullpen and, a lot of times, we’re going to use them when it’s their turn to pitch. We’ll use two or three guys to close out games. We’ll use two or three guys as long (relievers).”

Doug Banks (32) is the TinCaps hitting coach.

The former scout is telling his young players to focus on the positives.

“The biggest thing with these guys is that they trust themselves and they stick to their approach — whatever it is that night — and they believe in themselves,” says Banks. “That’s a big one.

“I’m exciting about this season. I hope they live up to the potential they have.”

As a young coach in the Texas Rangers organization, Banks learned from veteran baseball minds Ron Washington, Clint Hurdle and Mike Maddux and watched veteran Michael Young and Josh Hamilton.

“That was a big opportunity for me,” says Banks.

And opportunity is what’s in store for these young Fort Wayne TinCaps.

FORTWAYNETINCAPS

Glover helps Hobart baseball change its culture

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Culture.

It is a buzzword that’s popular these days in high school athletics.

Can a team change to a culture of dedication and winning?

In the case of the Hobart Brickies, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bob Glover Jr., who in his 11th season as a baseball coach at his alma mater (the last eight as head coach) has witnessed a positive change in the Hobart diamond culture.

The year before Glover took over as head coach, the Brickies went 9-20. In 2014, Hobart set a school record for victories, going 26-6 and earning the program’s first sectional championship since 1993.

“It was all about culture from the very beginning,” says Glover, who saw his career coaching record move to 137-72 with a season-opening win against Merrillville. “We had some battles trying to get kids to take the game more seriously.”

Glover, a 2001 HHS graduate and son of Hobart athletic director Bob Glover Sr., and others wanted to make baseball more than a hobby or springtime time-filler.

For the first time in years, the Brickies won more games than they lost in Glover’s second season at the helm and with that achievement came the raising of expectations.

“That was a big step for us,” says Glover, the seventh head baseball coach at the school since 1956. “We proved we could do that.”

Then it was time to aim for the next level. Not satisfied with just being good, players wanted to max out their potential as a team and as individuals.

“We had to convince them they were good enough to get to that level,” says Glover. “The more success we had, the more they believed they could.”

But it wasn’t just an attitude change. Hobart’s rise coincided with an improvement in facilities. Midway through the 2008-09 school year, an entirely new school complex opened. That included a fieldhouse, two side-by-side baseball diamonds and a turf football field that could be utilized by baseball on days that their fields were unplayable.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in the improvement of our won-loss record and overall standing of our program,” says Glover. “But (the facilities upgrade) is definitely a part of the story.”

The 2014 team was full of three- and four-year varsity players, many of whom went on to play college sports. Brandon Murray was drafted in the 30th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but the right-handed pitcher opted to go to the University of South Carolina. He is one of the top prospects in NCAA Division I.

“You’ve heard it said, ‘no animals; no zoo’?,” says Glover. “You have to have great players to be successful. We’ve had a lot of talented, dedicated and hard-working kids.”

A number of team and individual hitting and pitching records have been established the past three seasons.

Like in past seasons, the Brickies will be looking for leadership.

Glover says that can take many forms, but is usually most effective at the high school level when shown by example or through performance and effort.

“Kids these days don’t respond as well to (vocal leaders),” says Glover. Good leaders show consistency and how business is conducted and the others will fall in line. “The good part of the last five years or so is once we had that established, we had really good continuity.”

Graduation took 10 players from that Hobart team. There are just two seniors on the ’17 squad.

The Brickies are coming off a 2016 season that saw them go 21-9 overall and 10-2 in the always-competitive Northwest Crossroads Conference (other members are Andrean, Griffith, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).

The NCC plays home-and-home games against the same opponents on Mondays and Tuesdays. The league adopted the format in recent years after playing two rotations with conference contests on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays one week and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next.

“We didn’t like the way that was playing out,” says Glover, speaking for his fellow NCC coaches. “This is more like true baseball. You get to see the depth of the pitching staff.”

Speaking of pitching, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district representative Glover addressed the new pitch count rules.

The Brickies had been tracking pitches at all three levels the past few seasons, noting the number of pitches and days of rest. There were no times the past two seasons at the varsity level that the team would have been over the new limit and few times the JV would have risen above its ceiling.

In talking with other coaches, Glover has come to the conclusion that the pitch count rule with its rest requirements is going to have its biggest impact during the IHSAA state tournament series, especially in the sectional where multiple games are played in a fairly short span of days and the regional where teams play twice in the same day.

“Our sectional is pretty difficult with large 4A schools and a lot of parity,” says Glover. “I believe in the last couple of years that (some teams) have used their No. 1 pitchers in all three games in the sectional (start first game, relieve in second game start third game). That won’t be an option anymore.”

Glover has six assistant coaches — Jim Nohos and Tony Curatolo with the varsity, Jesse Smith and Bobby Wineland with the junior varsity and Nick Roberts and Tom Anderson with the C-team. Nohos is also a well-known coach of area summer teams. Curatolo and Anderson played for Glover. Smith (Griffith) and Roberts (Merrillville) are former players at Region schools. Wineland has a son in the program.

An associate scout or “bird dog” for the Atlanta Braves since last summer, Glover reports to an area scout on players he sees while coaching for Hobart and also checks out some players in the fall.

“I keep my ear to the ground, so to speak,” says Glover.

BOBGLOVERJR

Head coach Bob Glover Jr. has helped changed the baseball culture at Hobart High School.

HOBARTBRICKIES

Just 25, Carlton is already making his mark on Indiana prep baseball scene

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the younger minds on the Indiana high school baseball coaching block is enjoying success early in his career.

Royce Carlton, who turned 25 in January, has racked up 48 victories in his first three seasons as a head coach.

As a University of Indianapolis junior, Carlton was hired as an assistant at his high school alma mater — Morristown. The next spring (2014), the Yellow Jackets went 19-7 with Carlton in charge a season after going 12-13. The ’14 Morristown team hit .378 with Quality At-Bat percentage of 61, a .458 on-base percentage and 3.15 earned run average).

After graduating UIndy, Carlton got a job and a fresh start on the western side of the state. At Attica, he is head baseball coach, head boys tennis coach, strength and conditioning coordinator and teaches health and physical education. He was also coaching basketball when he first arrived at the Fountain County school.

“It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far,” says Carlton. “It’s a very tight-knit community and there’s a lot of support.”

On the diamond, Carlton took a team that was around .500 the year before he arrived to 14-10 in 2015 (.351/45/.446/3.56) and 15-8 in 2016 (.312/45/.407.2.25). Opponents hit .207 against Red Ramblers pitching last spring.

Drawing from his many influences and conducting plenty of research, Carlton is making Attica better on the diamond. Attica will be out to earn its eighth overall sectional title and first since 2010.

The foundation of what Royce does comes from his parents — Roger and Elaine Carlton. Roger stole 72 bases in a season for Morristown in the late ’70s and base stealing has been a major component for Royce’s teams (Morristown swiped 98 in 2014 while Attica pilfered 95 in 2015 and 67 in 2016, all with a success rate of over 85 percent).

The enthusiastic coach is always talking with people in the baseball community and applying that knowledge to his program. He will take this from a college coach and that from Major League Baseball manager.

Some of what Carlton knows about base running comes from Mike Roberts, professional and college coach and the father of former American League stolen base champion Brian Roberts (who took 50 for the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and 285 for his MLB career).

To be successful on the paths, Carlton says his players must be “aggressively technical.”

“You have to commit at the right time,” says Carlton. “You have no time for a second thought.”

Grandfather Paul Goble, a highly-respected track and cross country coach at Morristown, and great uncle Charlie Nugent (who hit .299 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in as a first-team all-Indiana Collegiate Conference first baseman at Ball State in 1965) have also shaped Royce.

Royce played for Tim Hancock at Morristown and credits head coach Gary Vaught and assistant Al Ready for teaching him a lot of baseball in his two seasons as an Indianapolis Greyhound.

He is thankful to the athletic directors who hired him — Craig Moore at Morristown and Fred Unsicker at Attica. Moore continues to be a professional mentor to the young Carlton.

Carlton saw that Oscar Jimenez (a former Kansas City Royals prospect, Little League World Series star and native of Panama living in the Lafayette) did not have a job in baseball and added him a coaching staff which also includes Rod Crist at the varsity level with Nick Burris and Chris Ferguson running Attica’s two junior varsity teams.

With 34 players, Carlton said he has to the biggest numbers in the Wabash River Conference (a league of Class 1A and 2A schools).

“That’s unheard of for a school our size,” says Carlton. With two JV teams, players will be moved around as needed. The head coach is not yet sure about the quality of pitching in his freshmen class.

A few ways that he helps his pitchers — really all players — is by the use of the DriveLine Baseball training methods as well as the Motus sleeve, a device which includes a ulnar collateral ligament workload monitor which is touted by the company as “the first tool aimed specifically at combating UCL tears that lead to Tommy John Surgery.”

“The kids see all the technology and see how changing an arm slot reduces arm stress on the elbow,” says Carlton.

Pitchers throw from their natural arm slot and if Carlton sees any issues with the data he gathers, he might change their motion a little bit.

Ramblers senior ace right-hander Eli Merriman was converted from overhand to a sidearm delivery and found to have less stress that way.

“It’s not one size fits all,” says Carlton. “You’ve got to adapt to each kid. Not every kid can throw sidearm.

“In the past, coaches wanted each pitcher to be a cookie cutter (and all throw with the same delivery). It’s not that way anymore.”

Following a two-week spring break, the Ramblers are scheduled to open the 2017 season Tuesday, April 4 by visiting the Cornjerkers of Hoopeston (Ill.).

I am very excited to see how all of our players contribute to having a successful season and a deep tournament run,” says Carlton. “I am looking forward to having our best season yet lead by not only my strong senior class but also our freshman, sophomores, and juniors.

“I want us to be “uncomfortable” this season. We know we have the pieces but we need to stay on a continued path of growth each pitch of every game and not get comfortable with success.”

ROYCECARLTON

Royce Carlton is entering his third season at Attica in 2017. He has led the Red Ramblers to 29 victories in his first two seasons. He turned 25 in January.

School is closing, but Saint Joseph’s College looking to go out in style

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a popular hashtag around Rensselaer, Ind.: #ForeverPumas.

It looks like this is the last spring Saint Joseph’s College will field a baseball team or any other team.

Because of monetary woes, SJC has decided to close at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

The school, which was founded in 1889, went on financial probation by the Higher Learning Commission and then made the decision to cease operations — at least for the time being. Commencement is scheduled for May 6.

Rick O’Dette, a former Saint Joseph’s player and 17th-year head coach, has been in charge of the transition after the shocking news broke just before the season opener for this school with a history of diamond success.

“We’re going about it like it’s our last season,” O’Dette said Wednesday, March 29. “We’ve always had financial questions and concerns. But this all kind of hit us quickly.”

Dr. Robert Pastoor, SJC president, issued the following statement Feb. 2:

“At what is truly one of the most difficult points in the history of Saint Joseph’s College, when it seems that hope is lost and parties are divided, it is important to remember that our Community has made it through other difficult chapters, and that we all agree more than we disagree. We all want to find a way for SJC to overcome the present challenges and be resurrected with its mission intact. We need to pull together, rather than apart, during this transition period — students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and everyone who loves SJC.

“We wish the financial situation was different than it is, but it has been building over decades, and it will take time to work our way out of it. We regret that many people did not realize the financial situation we were in, and we are committed to sharing all relevant information with our Community, because through understanding we can develop solutions.

“With your prayers and support, you and we will help make Saint Joseph’s College strong again.”

O’Dette’s NCAA Division II No. 19-ranked Pumas (currently 16-6 overall and 2-2 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference) have gone about their on-field business while many of the players have looked to find a new collegiate home for next year.

“The process has been really difficult,” O’Dette said. “Our players have done a really good job from the standpoint of getting better and being of value to other programs.

“It’s a great place. It’s just a sad deal. We’re going to miss it for sure. These guys have bought in to making it the best opportunity they can.”

O’Dette’s coaching staff includes Matt Kennedy, Nic Sampognaro, Eric Bunnell and Dennis Khym. These men will also have to find new places, but the players have been top priority.

“Our first goal is to get these guys comfortable with what’s happening,” O’Dette said. “They don’t deserve this. It’s not their fault.

“We’ve done a good job of being out front with everything. We’ve made a ton of contacts so everybody who wants to play somewhere has an opportunity to play.”

O’Dette and his assistants have fielded hundreds of phone calls inquiring about player availability.

“The majority of our guys are already going somewhere,” O’Dette said. There were a few scouts at the doubleheader against Wayne State Wednesday, March 29 at SJC’s Gil Hodges Field/Rueth-Fitzgibbon Complex.

“A number of guys are going to (NCAA) Division I baseball,” O’Dette said. “We’ve got some guys who are going D-II, D-III, NAIA and a few will just end up going to school and finishing their degree.

“It’s tough to be done with their game and hand them over to another coach like we’re a junior college. It’s been a really difficult thing.”

O’Dette, who hails from Tinley Park, Ill., had concentrated much of his search for players in the Chicago area until those players became a little too costly to land. The recruiting trails has generally been a five-hour radius. But SJC has gone further.

The Pumas’ 53-man roster includes 11 seniors and 27 players from Indiana, 19 from Illinois, two from Puerto Rico and one each from Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.

SJC seniors are Zachary Aring (Beecher, Ill.), Riley Benner (Tri-County High School), Kyle Estand (Evergreen, Ill.), Chase Fieldhouse (Lake Central High School), Joshua Handzik (Frankfort, Ill.), Ryan Keck (Edwardsville, Ill.), Martin Napleton (LaGrange, Ill.), Brenden Rivera (Temple Terrace, Fla.), David Schurr (Plainfield, Ill.), Kevin Sloat (Manteno, Ill.) and Tasker Strobel (Avon High School).

Benner, currently SJC’s leading hitter at .427, talked about the reason he chose to become a Puma.

“My dad (Mick) came here and always had good things to say about Saint Joe,” Benner said. “I took a visit and I loved everything about it. I just couldn’t wait to get on campus my freshman year.

“It’s been nothing short of awesome.”

How did the first baseman and business administration major take the news about the school closing, taking the baseball program with it?

“We speculated for awhile what was going to happen,” Benner said of the school of about 1,000 students (more than half being athletes). “But hearing they were not going to have students in the fall was in shock. It was utter sadness. I don’t no any better words to describe it.

“I can’t imagine some of the anxiety some of (my younger teammates) must have.”

Handzik, a third baseman and business administration/economics major hitting .329, expressed his feelings for his teammates.

“My first thought went to the younger guys — the freshmen, sophomores, juniors — all these guys that I’ve seen grow and how upset I was that I was not going to be able to see them finish here and have the full experience I had here,” Handzik said.

While the team does not have captains per se, there is a team-picked leadership group and Handzik is part of that.

“At the end of the fall, we went through an evaluation to rate people on the team who you think are leaders,” Handzik. “We make sure guys are on track off the field as well as on the field.”

Winning baseball is important. But that’s not the only objective at SJC.

“We want guys walking out of here as great people,” O’Dette said. “They care about each other. They care about this institution. They are about others in our community.”

To come to St. Joseph’s, they have to care about hitting the books as much as hitting a curve ball. The Pumas have a team grade-point average of 3.4 on a 4.0 scale with nine 4.0’s and 23 players with an average of 3.8 or higher.

“Our guys have done a really good job in the classroom,” O’Dette said. “We have to have a student-athlete here. This is not an easy academic institution.”

Strobel, a left-handed pitcher and business administration major who transferred from Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., to the University of the Illinois-Chicago to Saint Joe prior to the 2016 season, wants to Pumas to go out on top.

“Let’s go win it all. Why not make it a storybook ending?,” Strobel said. “Let’s make (an ESPN) ’30 for 30’ out of it. Why not us?

“We definitely have the talent to (win a championship). We have our iffy games. But if we put all through aspects together — running, pitching, hitting — we definitely have one of the best teams in the nation.”

O’Dette has that same mindset.

“Our guys deserve to go out on top,” O’Dette said. “Our alumni deserve to see that. We want success for everybody in this program.”

Napleton, a catcher and business administration major hitting .371, is more than pleased with his decision to attend SJC.

“I love it here,” Napleton said. “I’ve grown as a man — in my personal life and on the field as a baseball player.”

Napleton wishes nothing but the best to his younger teammates who will be wearing different uniforms in the coming seasons.

“It’s bittersweet that they don’t get to go here four years like I did,” Napleton said. “As a leader, I’ve got to be proud of my guys wherever they decide to go to school.”

Advice from O’Dette has stuck with Napleton. One stands out.

“Just do the little things right,” Napleton. “That’s so important in life. A lot of times if you’re doing the little things right, the breaks go your way. If you take care of business and the small details, life is a lot easier.”

Khym, an SJC volunteer coach since 1990, gave the main reasons he keeps making the trek from Monee, Ill.

“It’s the people,” Khym said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s the people more than baseball. There’s some special against Saint Joseph’s people. I didn’t go to school here, but they have adopted me so I’m almost like an alumni. They treat me with the utmost respect.

“There’s a lot of love at this school.”

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With Saint Joseph’s College announcing its closing, the 2017 baseball season will be the last for the Pumas. SJC is currently 16-6 and ranked No. 19 in the NCAA Division II poll.

Lawrence North’s Winzenread wants Wildcats to play with ‘no regrets’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“No regrets.”

Lawrence North High School baseball coach Richard Winzenread expects nothing less than the best from his Wildcats.

There should be no sleepless nights because of lukewarm effort.

It’s been that way since Winzenread took over as leader of the LN program in 1992.

“If we work hard, good things will come,” says Winzenread. “We want to be the best team our talent level will allow. If we do that, we’ve had a successful season.

“At tournament time, we’re a pretty tough out. You have to bring your best game to beat us.”

Winzenread has gathered a wealth of baseball knowledge from coaches at the high school, college and professional level and he shares that with his LN players.

Then he lets them take over.

“We don’t clone them,” says Winzenread. “I don’t want to take away their natural ability. I tell them it’s their responsibility to get better.”

Players need to take the initiative to get extra swings in the batting cage or more ground balls on their own time.

“We’ve had quite a few kids over the years that have made themselves better,” says Winzenread. “Kids have to take ownership.

“Kids today don’t practice enough. You should practice more than you play. You need to be the best player you can be, so you have no regrets.”

The coach can be tough, but he has the student-athlete’s best interests at heart.

“What makes me the most proud is seeing how the kid grows through his four years of our program,” says Winzenread. “I think the kids know I care about them. I want them to be the best version of a person they can be — as a student and a player. We want them to be ready for college.”

Winzenread does his coaching and teaching on the northeast side of Indianapolis. He first learned baseball on the south side from his father Richard and then played at Southport High School, graduating in 1982 and moving on to play for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover College.

Naylor is also in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

A right-handed pitcher, Winzenread was drafted in the 21st round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1986. In the O’s system he learned much from then-roving pitching instructor Mark Wiley — things he still uses today at Lawrence North.

In his third pro season, Winzenread was injured and decided to come back to Indy. He worked for UPS and helped coach at Southport with Cardinals head coach John Carpenter (John Dwenger was head coach when Winzenread was a Southport player).

Winzenread stayed close to the game by giving lessons and found many of his clients were in the Lawrence area. He completed his education degree and took a middle school teaching job in the Lawrence Township district.

After teaching at various middle schools, Winzenread landed at the high school four years ago as a physical education and health teacher.

Seeing another chance to give back to the game that had been so good to him, Winzenread applied to replace Tim Fitzgerald as LN head coach when he stepped down right before the 1992 season. Fitzgerald is now the varsity assistant on a Wildcats coaching staff that also includes Chris Todd (junior varsity) and Kyle Green (freshmen).

Not knowing how to run a high school program back in ’92, Winzenread made a trip to Indiana University to pick the brain of head coach Bob Morgan.

“He did a lot for me early in my career,” says Winzenread. “He’s one of the best baseball minds around.”

In Winzenread’s first decade at Lawrence North, assistant coach Bob Kraft brought things to the program he had gained while being associated with Stanford University baseball.

Tony Vittorio, who was head coach at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and is now in his 18th season as head coach at the University of Dayton, followed a similar path to Winzenread in that he played at Southport and Hanover before going into coaching.

“He’s such got tremendous passion,” says Winzenread says of Vittorio. “He works those kids. He can be tough at times. But, in this business you have to be.”

Winzenread has a passion for developing pitchers. Ideally, the Wildcats will have seven or eight capable arms in a season. Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference games are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Winzenread uses his top two starters in those games with a third pitcher expected to handle to relief duties. Those pitchers have a bullpen session on Saturday and are ready to go again the following week.

“They build up arm strength to be a starter or build up arm strength to be a reliever and they work different,” says Winzenread.

LN hurlers are expected to throw strikes, but not necessarily rack up K’s.

“Strikeouts are fine, but they’re not something we strive for,” says Winzenread. “Our philosophy is to have (the batter) hit our pitch. Our pitch counts are usually not that high.”

Batters are kept off-balance by the mixing of speeds and location — up and down, in and out, back and forth.

One location in the strike zone is off limits.

“We don’t want to throw it over the middle of the plate,” says Winzenread. “When we warm up, the middle part is black and we have two white edges.

“We want to have a little bit of movement.”

Winzenread calls anything over 15 pitches a stressful inning.

If a pitcher strung together a couple of 26-pitch innings, he would be at 52 and might be done for the day, depending on the athlete.

If those same 52 pitches were spread over five innings, that would be a different story.

“I enjoy winning,” says Winzenread. “But I would never put a kid’s health in front of that — ever.”

With that in mind, he will always protect a pitcher’s arm. If they throw 85 pitches Tuesday, it’s a good bet they might be used as a designated hitter but will not take a field position Wednesday.

The 2016 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) Sectional — won by Lawrence North — was set up with pitching in mind. Games in the six-team format were played on Wednesday with semifinals and finals Monday.

“That’s the only thing that’s fair,” says Winzenread, who has seen LN take seven of its eight all-time sectional titles, both regionals, one semistate crown and one state runner-up finish (7-6 loss to McCutcheon in the 1999 Class 4A final) on his watch. “I wish we’d seed the draw and we don’t. Everyone says ‘pitching and defense (wins championships).’ You can hit all you want, but eventually good pitching is going to shut that down.”

With those factors in mind, LN changed its regular-season schedule and has as many three-game weeks as possible.

No matter where they play on the diamond, Winzenread expects his player to know their role. That might mean starting or coming off the bench.

“Everyone’s got a role to way and you’ve got to accept it,” says Winzenread. “(Reserves are) always constantly paying attention to the game so when you’re number is called, you’re ready.”

And with no regrets.

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Richard Winzenread is in his 26th season as head baseball coach at Lawrence North High School.

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Richard Winzenread took Lawrence North to the IHSAA State Finals in 1999. He has been head baseball coach for the Wildcats since 1992.