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Indiana University’s Mercer shares guiding principles with IHSBCA all-stars

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer once walked in the same shoes as the young men participating in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Representing Franklin Community, Mercer traveled to Jasper in 2004 and went 0-for-2 at the plate with a strikeout and a groundout to the shortstop. He pitched twice and gave runs in both innings. He completed his innings by using the fake-to-third and throw-to-first move to twice pick off runners.

Mercer went on to become an All-American and conference player of the year at Wright State University and was later a head coach at WSU at 29.

“One weekend is not going to make your career,” said Mercer. The Indiana University head coach was the keynote speaker at the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, June 21 at Hanover College.

The Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year in his first season leading the Hoosiers let those assembled know about why he came back to his home state.

“This place raised me,” said Mercer, who turns 34 on July 29. “You learn to love a place that loves you so much and invests in you so much.

“I wanted to coach in Indiana. It wasn’t about IU. It wasn’t about the university. It was about the people.”

Mercer encouraged the all-stars to be appreciative of the support they’ve received on their journey and the effort put into the festivities in Madison, Ind. Games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23.

“I hope you say thanks and I hope you mean it,” said Mercer. “I hope you take a moment to give back because they’ve given so much to you.”

Mercer said the all-stars represent their families, coaches, community and state, just like he does.

“Make sure that your represent this place and these people that love you the way they deserve to be represented,” said Mercer.

The coach said society desperately needs men in leadership roles.

Mercer shared some guiding principles he’s learned along the way. He uses these with his IU players on a daily basis.

“I’ve made a life out of trying to help young men become men,” said Mercer. “They learn baseball along the way.

“As you move into the next part of your life, who you are is going to become so much more important than what you are. We’re not just a collection of tools. We’re not just big, fast and strong, but It’s the people we are.”

Mercer said he does his best to communicate these things that often have nothing to do with baseball.

“It has to do with who we are and the decisions we make,” said Mercer.

Mercer emphasized the importance of work.

“You can have anything in life if you’re willing to do the work.” said Mercer. “The problem is we don’t understand what a level of investment is.

“What are you willing to give to have what you want?”

Once success is achieved, it’s key to remember how you go there.

Mercer has been putting in 12 to 15 hours a day since his days as a graduate assistant.

“If you don’t, somebody else who wants what you go will take it away from you,” said Mercer. “We have to grow and push our limits. But we can not stop working.

“Work must become the currency of your lifestyle. Not regret. Regret is a terrible lifestyle.

“It’s a terrible thing to look back and say, ‘what if?’”

“What’s valuable to you? What’s valuable to me in my personal life at Indiana is work. I respect work. Talent is God-given. You can’t control that.”

In his climb up the coaching ladder, Mercer decided he would be the best he could at ordering sandwiches and washing laundry.

It’s all about the decisions that are made.

“Do we make good decisions everyday?,” said Mercer. “If we’re able to take responsibility for the decisions that we make and we’re to live with integrity and it’s the work that we put in, we’re going to have an opportunity to continue to have success.”

There is also standard to live by.

Mercer told the teenagers in front of him that it will be easy as they enter the next phase of their lives to get away from the people that hold them accountable.

“I’m OK with making decisions that the people who raised me wouldn’t be OK with me making,” said Mercer. “There’s never a right time to do the wrong thing. There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.

“Live with integrity and honesty and surround yourself with people who are doing the same.”

People become a product of your environment.

“In my line of work, I have difficult conversations with players and coaches all the time,” said Mercer. They’re not fun.”

Those talks revolve around two pieces — the person and the player.

“If I’m completely honest, somebody may not like me in that moment,” said Mercer. “But they’ll respect me in the long run.”

Mercer encouraged everyone, including the all-stars, to value the process over the outcome.

“Every complex problem can be reverse-engineered to its most basic process and reassembled slowly, excelling at each phase,” said Mercer. “You can break it down and have success piece by piece.

“You’ve got to find a way at becoming world class at solving basic problems without becoming emotionally attached to the outcome.”

Mercer is in charge of IU’s hitters and lets them know that the outcome is uncontrollable.

On Friday, they made get into a good hitter’s count, make solid contact and find the gap for three hits including two doubles and two runs batted in. They are seen as a hero.

On Saturday, they take the same approach and the center fielder makes three diving catches to take away hits.

“Now I’m a bum and can’t play?,” said Mercer. “I control what I can control and that’s it. It’s the hardest thing to communicate to young people. Your best is your best. The outcome in your life is uncontrollable.

“Stop being obsessed with winning and be obsessed with the details.”

Understand the difference between complicated and difficult is key.

“Complicated is something that’s hard to grasp at first, but if you invest time into it and break it into manageable pieces, you can understand it rather easily,” said Mercer. “Are you willing to invest the time and energy to solve a complicated problem?”

If something is difficult, it will be hard no matter how process-based a person may be. It’s difficult to hit a 97 mph fastball.

Mercer said it is important to go through life and baseball with an unwavering strength of conviction.

“You have to have a belief in your process of work,” said Mercer. “If you invest yourself completely in the process, you have confidence in what you’ve done.

“You control your life. Your life doesn’t control you.

“I do the best that I can do everyday. I work as hard as I can for as long as I can and I’m as organized as I can (be). That’s all I can do. I don’t have any more to give.

“The adversity of your life will drive you and you should embrace it.”

All-star players and coaches were presented with certificates. Players got souvenirs from MDS Baseball Bats.

Jeffersonville’s Blayden McMahel was recognized for winning the home run derby held earlier in the day. He topped Warsaw’s Liam Patton in the finals.

Andrean’s Michael Doolin, not in attendance, was named 2019 IHSBCA Player of the Year.

JEFFMERCERIU

Jeff Mercer, head baseball coach at Indiana University, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series banquet at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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Drosche, ‘coachable’ Avon Orioles enjoying the game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Troy Drosche has been coaching baseball for 17 seasons at Avon (Ind.) High School — the last 11 as head coach.

The Orioles are one victory away from competing in the IHSAA State Finals for the first time. Avon (20-13-1) plays Columbus East (24-4) Saturday, June 8 in the Class 4A south semistate game, which follows the 1 p.m. 3A game (Silver Creek vs. Edgewood) at Mooresville High School.

Drosche and his O’s have gotten to this point by getting his players to “be coachable.”

“We do our best as coaches to create an environment where players enjoy coming to the field everyday,” says Drosche. “It all starts from there — enjoy the GAME.”

Avon (enrollment around 3,200) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Brownsburg, Fishers, Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville).

The Orioles are part of a sectional grouping with Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. With 2019’s titles, Avon has won five sectionals and two regionals (the previous one in 1994).

“We’ve got this thing rolling pretty good, winning three of last four sectionals,” says Drosche.

Avon reigned at the Terre Haute North Vigo Sectional and Decatur Central Regional.

“In the postseason, pitching and defense has carried us,” says Drosche. “We have done enough offensively and executed at the right times to score enough to survive and advance.

“We like to play situational baseball. Bunting/moving runners/setting ourselves up to get a big hit. We try to get the best matchups and execute our game plan.”

In the sectional semifinals against Northview with the game scoreless and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Avon won in walk-off fashion by scoring a run from third base with a bunt single.

“Our players have bought into their roles and believe that the coaches are going to put them in the best position to win,” says Drosche. “This mindset didn’t come overnight though — it took a lot of time over the years.  

“This group has a unique mix of grit and toughness. Honestly, they just come and play ball — trying not to make things too big or too small.”

Senior right-hander Austin Baugh (Kentucky Wesleyan College commit) and junior left-hander Kyren Power have been the Orioles’ go-to pitchers during the IHSAA tournament. They combined for a two-hit shutout in the sectional championship against Mooresville.

“We didn’t over-work them during the year, so they have been pretty fresh for the postseason and have been outstanding,” says Drosche.

Junior left-handed middle reliever Jake Hoffman and senior lefty closer Lucas Carrillo have shined out of the bullpen during the regular season and postseason. Hoffman has five wins in relief. Carrillo has three victories and seven saves. Both have earned run averages under 2.50.

Junior center fielder Cam Melvin has been Avon’s best hitter with four home runs, three triples, 14 doubles and an average that’s been around .400 most of the season. Baugh, junior second baseman Mason Miller, senior designated hitter Mark Gemmer and junior first baseman Tyce Ferrell have all hit around .300.

Sophomore third baseman Henry Hesson slugged two home runs and Power one during the regional. Senior right fielder Parker Sutton is committed to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.

Drosche, a 1992 graduate of Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Ky., and 1996 graduate of Marian College (now Marian University in Indianapolis), is assisted by Ryan East, Nick Spence, Tasker Strobel, Ryan McPike, Bob McPike and Matt Kinney.

East has been with Drosche for 10 years. Spence is the pitching coach. Strobel and Ryan McPike played for Drosche at Avon. Kinney runs the C-team. This year, Avon had 49 players on its varsity, junior varsity and C-teams.

Recent Avon graduates who played college baseball include Spencer Strobel at Purdue Fort Wayne, Noah Navarro at Ball State and Kahi’au Quartero at Marian.

Former Orioles pitchers Jared Miller and Chandler Sanburn competed in the minors in 2018.

Drosche calls Avon’s on-campus home field “one of the best in the state.”

“Matt Dudley is our field maintenance manager and he is flat-out the best in the state,” says Drosche. “And the field is getting better and better since his arrival two years ago.”

The Avon Baseball Club serves is a feeder system for the high school. It is up to 16 teams. The travel program is under the Avon Junior Athletic Association umbrella.

“The high school staff has been heavily involved with the program for a number of years now,” says Drosche.

The Indiana Bulls travel organization has had Drosche as a summer coach.

After coming to central Indiana from Kentucky, Drosche was a four-year starter at shortstop at Marian and helped the Knights win two conference championships. He was an All-American honorable mention and the team’s and conference’s MVP as a senior and was inducted into M-Club Wall of Fame in 2008.

Prior to Avon, he was an assistant at Marian and Ben Davis High School.

Drosche was an assistant at Avon for Clark Reeves for six years before taking over the program. He considers his father Glenn Drosche, Marian coaches Kurt Guldner and Bret Shambaugh, Reeves and fellow business teacher and former Reeves assistant Ralph Hartnagel as mentors.

“(Reeves) was one of the most knowledgeable baseball guys I’ve ever been around,” says Drosche. “He definitely had a certain way of coaching. He held kids to a high standard and expected nothing less from them.

“(Guldner) was a great leader that allowed his teams to play. Sometimes less is more. He allowed us to be baseball players and enjoy the game. That’s something we’re definitely doing this year (at Avon).

“(Hartnagel) is extremely knowledgable. He has great innovative ideas about drills and practices.”

Drosche, who holds a masters degree from the University of Indianapolis, teaches Careers and is a DECA advisor at AHS. He and Hartnagel run the O-Zone school store.

Troy and Jenn Drosche have three children — Olivia (11), Trevor (9) and Kendra (7). All three play travel basketball. Olivia also plays travel softball, Trevor travel baseball and Kendra travel soccer.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 8

North

At Plymouth
Class 1A

Rossville (25-7) vs. Washington Township (22-6), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT

Class 4A
Hamilton Southeastern (21-8) vs. Mishawaka (25-6), following

At Kokomo (Municipal Stadium)
Class 3A

Yorktown (18-14) vs. Andrean (34-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Alexandria Monroe (27-6) vs. Whiting (15-11), following

South

At Mooresville
Class 3A

Silver Creek (23-6) vs. Edgewood (23-3), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 4A

Columbus East (24-4) vs. Avon (20-13-1), following

At Jasper (Ruxer Field)
Class 1A

Tecumseh (21-7) vs. University (20-10-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Southridge (16-8) vs. South Vermillion (24-5), following

AVONORIOLES

DROSCHEFAMILY

The Drosche family (clockwise from upper right) — Troy, Trevor, Kendra, Olivia and Jenn — celebrate a regional baseball championship for Avon (Ind.) High School. Troy Drosche is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Orioles. Avon plays Silver Creek in the IHSAA Class 4A Mooresville Semistate on Saturday, June 8.

 

Twin Lakes’ Burton has been coaching with discipline for four decades

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Burton has not changed the way he coaches much in more than four decades of leading high school baseball programs in Indiana.

Modeling his style after men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber and Lafayette Jeff’s Paul “Spider” Fields, Burton decided discipline would be the cornerstone of his teams.

“We’re demanding,” says Burton, who is in his 41st season of doing things his way — third at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello in 2019 after 37 at McCutcheon (1979-2015) in Lafayette and one at North Newton (2016) in Morocco. “The kid has to make sacrifices. We don’t allow long hair. It has to be an inch above the collar and off the ear.

“If they miss a practice unexcused, it’s a 20-mile run. You don’t play again until you get done.”

Burton hasn’t wavered from that approach since his first game in 1979.

“People say that’s crazy, but we’ve eliminated problems because kids don’t take a chance,” says Burton. “They don’t test you on those things. They know we mean business. We’ve not changed that.

“Not that these things make the program, but they establish a culture for the program.”

With 849 career wins coming into this week, Burton is second among active high school baseball coaches in Indiana (behind Andrean’s Dave Pishkur). He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and became just the fourth Indiana prep baseball coach to do into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

Twin Lakes (enrollment around 820) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Twin Lakes, Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central and West Lafayette in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

A two-game home-and-home series on consecutive nights is played within the division. Crossover games are then played with corresponding seeds in each division — 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and son on.

The Indians opened the 2019 season with a trip to Tennessee, where they met Halls, West Carroll and Tipton-Rosemark Academy (2018 Tennessee state runner-up among private schools).

“It was a good experience for us,” says Burton.

A year ago, a team rule was made that players could be away at the beginning of spring break through Tuesday and had to be back on Wednesday in order to travel to Tennessee and be ready to open the conference season against Lafayette Central Catholic.

Other non-conference opponents include Crawfordsville, Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Frontier, Kankakee Valley, Lafayette Jeff, Maconaquah, McCutcheon, North Newton, North White and Tri-County.

The Indians are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Wheeler. Twin Lakes has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 1993.

Twin Lakes was off to an 11-5 start in 2019, including 5-1 in the HAC.

“I think we’ve turned the corner a little bit,” says Burton. “We are winning games that we should win and competing well in all our games except for a couple.

“The kids seem to be confident that they can win. When I first got here that didn’t exist.”

Burton started out with 32 players in the program his first year and had 18 in the second season after some weeding out.

“They weren’t here for the real reason you play baseball,” says Burton. “You play sports to get better at it and enjoy the camaraderie, but also enjoy the competition.

“They were doing it as if it was just something to do rather than something they wanted to do.”

Retired as a school administrator, when he’s not serving as a substitute at Twin Lakes, Burton likes to play golf or pickleball before coming to the school.

Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game similar to tennis played to 11. When he and his partner got down 10-1, the partner started talking about asking their opponent for a rematch. Burton wasn’t willing to concede defeat. He knew the game wasn’t over until one team got to 11.

Burton recalls a day in1984 at McCutcheon when his team was down 10-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.

The coach began pulling out his starters and telling them to get something to eat and be back for the second game.

Meanwhile, the subs started hitting doubles and singles and — all of a sudden — in was 10-10. The Mavericks went on to win.

“Baseball is a unique game,” says Burton. “There is no clock and that’s the neatest thing about it.”

There are 22 players for varsity and junior varsity in 2019 and the number is expected to rise.

“We’re building it back up,” says Burton, who had five seniors in 2017, three in 2018 and has four in 2019 (Zion Cosgray, Brock Deno, Graham Howe and Ethan Luzadder). The Indians have nine freshmen.

Burton is assisted by Brian Driver, Mike Hirt, Sam McVady, Jeremy Stinson and Trent Wright.

Pitching coach Driver played for Burton at McCutcheon in the early 1990’s and has coached with Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes. Wright serves as the first base coach. Hirt, McVady and Stinson are JV coaches. McVady played for Burton at Twin Lakes.

Since arriving, Burton has watched the Indians’ home field get a new drainage system. A new outfield was installed and leveled.

“We really take care of the field,” says Burton. “We make sure it’s immaculate and things are put away each night.

“We just take a little pride. You can play on a good field and get nice, new uniforms and kids start to feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s something that’s contagious and it spreads and we play a little bit better.”

Monticello Youth Baseball League — a part of the Town & Country system — develops players that will eventually get a chance to wear Twin Lakes uniforms.

Burton says the change from a single class to class sports is the biggest change he’s witnessed in his time coaching baseball in Indiana.

“I never was in favor of class baseball,” says Burton. “I liked it when you had one true champion.”

When McCutcheon was a state runner-up during the one-class system in 1994 it meant as much to Burton as when the Mavericks won 4A state titles in 1999 and 2003.

The 1994 state championship game was won 4-3 by Penn, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“That game hinged on one play in the top of the seventh,” says Burton. “We got our 2-hole and or 3-hole hitter on and our clean-up guy, Preny Rodgriguez had just hit one off the wall the last time up.

“We were down 4-2. Do we bunt here? I let him swing away and he hits into a double play. The next batter get a base hit to make it one run but we don’t get two.

“That’s just a decision a coach makes. It happens all the time.”

Burton was a Purdue University student at a time when Indiana coaching legends were still on the scene.

“Things have changed. Ken Schreiber, Jim Reinebold, Bill Jones, Paul “Spider” Fields — they set the tone on how baseball should be coached and played. I was lucky enough to be young enough to be going through college and seeing that.

“You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see people putting in the time like that.”

Burton’s teams have held the No. 1 statewide ranking four times and knocked off No. 1 on 10 occasions. His squads have been state ranked in 33 of his first 40 seasons.

He has coached 23 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selections and a pair of Indiana Mr. Baseballs Clayton Richard (2003) and Logan Sowers (2014).

Six former players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including big leaguers Richard in 2005 and Nick Wittgren in 2009.

Burton has had 84 players play college baseball (10 are still active) with 10 first-team all-staters and 150 all-conference selections.

He’s sent former assistants/players have gone on to become high school coaches in Indiana.

Burton was chosen Indiana Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and was runner-up in the balloting in 1994. He has been a conference coach of the year 13 times and a regional coach of the year eight times.

He has amassed 15 conference championships, 11 sectional title, five regional crowns and twice claimed semistate hardware.

In Burton’s one season at North Newton, the Spartans went 20-9 and won the program’s first conference championship in 26 years.

Jake and Brenda Burton have been married 47 years and have three children — Mike, R.J. and Beth — and seven grandchildren. Teacher Mike (Class of 1993) and project engineer R.J. (1995) played baseball at McCutcheon for their father. Teacher Beth in a 1999 McCutcheon graduate. Jake is currently a Tippecanoe School Corporation board member.

JAKEBURTONTWINLAKES

Jake Burton is in his third season as a high school baseball head coach in Indiana in 2019. It’s his third season at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello.

 

Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (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). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

HANOVERCENTRALLOGO

The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

HANOVERCENTRALWILDCATS2

Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

HANOVERCENTRALWILDCATS1

The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

RYANNICOLEHARPERBRIDGES

The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.

 

Becich welcoming new bunch of Wheeler Bearcats to varsity baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A new bunch of Bearcats will get a chance to make an impact on Wheeler High School baseball in 2019.

The 2018 squad had several seniors who had been playing for the school located in Union Township near Valparaiso, Ind., since they were freshmen.

Jake Armentrout moved on to Xavier University in Cincinnati. Clayton Sanders signed at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet, Ill.

Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.

There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.

How will the Bearcats go about doing that?

“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”

Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.

The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.

Wheeler (enrollment of about 540) is in the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.

Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.

“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).

Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.

Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,  installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.

Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.

During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, IHSAA and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association have been working together on a proposal to add an arm care program to the baseball calendar.

“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”

Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.

Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.

Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.

“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”

Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.

Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).

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Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catches  for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.

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Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.

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Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.

 

Bogner keeping the bar set high for Highland Trojans baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tradition is an important concept for Highland (Ind.) High School baseball.

“We take a lot of pride in wearing our ‘H’ on our chest,” says John Bogner, who enters his sixth season as Trojans head coach and the 23rd in the program in 2019. “ We remember the kids who played at Highland previously. We want to have solid program that everyone should at least have on their radar.”

The 2018 Trojans went 22-8 and placed second to eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean in the Northwest Crossroads Conference after posting a 21-8 mark in 2017.

Bogner (pronounced BOAG-ner) was hired at Highland as a math teacher and has coached football, wrestling and baseball at various levels. He was the head freshmen baseball coach his first five springs then a varsity assistant for 12.

That was under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller, who amassed more than 600 wins, nine sectional titles, four regionals and one semistate and sent dozens of players on to college baseball from 1982-2013. Two of Miller’s former players — outfielder Tony Terzarial and left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s hard to replace a Hall of Fame coach,” says Bogner. “But we try to keep the bar as he set it.”

Bogner says he also appreciated Miller’s organization, attention to detail, his ability to handle kids and his game strategy.

Two members of the Highland Class of 2018 — catcher Nick Anderson (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) and third baseman Damen Castillo (Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.) — on to college diamonds. Current senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Siska is committed to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill.

To get some exposure for players and to give some a taste for travel, Highland will play in the early-season Super Prep Series hosted by Louisville Ballard.

Bogner asks his players to be focused on the field, take a disciplined approach at the plate and throw strikes with command on the mound.

“We want to do everything right,” says Bogner. “My players say, ‘you’re pretty old-fashioned.’

“I take that as a compliment.”

Depending upon the year, Highland generally has 45 to 55 players filling varsity, junior varsity and freshmen rosters.

That means about 16 to 18 with the varsity. Sometimes they rotate on road trips because of the capacity of activity buses.

“Our kids are good about knowing their roles,” says Bogner, who keeps his bench players active with scorebooks and spray charts and as bullpen catchers etc. “Highland’s always had really good kids. It’s made my job easier.”

This year, 22 sophomores indicated their interest in playing baseball for the Royal Blue and Gold.

The 2019 coaching staff will have Matt Bugajski and Bryan Gordon assisting with the varsity and Sam Michel leading the junior varsity. Volunteers at the JV and freshmen levels are Brian Lukich, Nik Mason and Will Kerber. A head freshmen coach is being sought.

The Trojans play on a on-campus diamond that sits along 41st Street. A donation by long-time Highland American Legion Post 180 manager George Bizoukas is bringing lights to the facility.

“This gives us some flexibility for practice times,” says Bogner. “And we can now host a sectional at the high school.”

Highland is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Lake Central, Lowell and Munster, the host for many years. The Trojans last won a sectional title in 2000.

Besides Highland and Andrean, the Northwest Crossroads Conference includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. The loop plays 10 games with home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bogner’s high school program is fed by Highland Little League and Highland Babe Ruth. He estimates about a third of his players play travel baseball.

“You have to play int he summer to beat schools like Lake Central and Munster,” says Bogner.

The 2019 season will mark the third that the IHSAA has adopted a 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).

“We’ve adapted to it,” says Bogner. “We were never guilty of blowing kids’ arms out (when the rule was 10 innings every three days). We used a lot of common sense.”

Bogner says he recently sent a letter to IHSBCA leadership lamenting that there are coaches out there that don’t show common sense with their pitches.

“You have to trust that your coach knows what’s going on and looks out for you,” says Bogner.

Prior to the rule and even since it has been put in place, Bogner has built up his pitchers arms in the winter. He has them working on pitch sequences and pitch-outs.

“By the end end of February bullpens, our goal is to be up to 80 pitches,” says Bogner. “But I don’t want my guys touching a baseball in December as far as throwing goes. You need to rest.”

This fall, the Trojans that were available to practice took part in a long toss program then players broke into positions. Bogner was coaching football, so practices were usually held late.

Bogner is a 1990 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for coach Jim Anderson.

“He taught us a lot about the game and its nuances,” says Bogner. “He wanted us to play with class. ‘Don’t play bush league’ was something he often said. He was a very good coach. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him.”

Anderson did not want his players focusing on their statistics.

“He’d say, ‘play the game right and the rest will take care of itself,” says Bogner, who went on to play two seasons as a catcher and designated hitter at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich.

Bogner recalls playing catch with Roadrunners coach Courtney Jasiak at the family cabin on Gravel Lake in Lawton, Mich., before committing to the school.

Jasiak had coached future big league star Derek Jeter at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School.

“I was like a sponge with that guy,” says Bogner of Jasiak. “He made me into a technician.”

Purdue University Calumet (now part of Purdue University Northwest) did not have a baseball team when Bogner went there to finish his degree.

Bogner did his student teaching at Calumet High School, where baseball head coach Woody Feeler (who had been his American Legion coach when he was in high school) let him run the show.

“It was like I was an associate head coach,” says Bogner. “I was neck deep.”

In the fall of 1996, he was hired at Highland and has been there ever since.

John is the middle son of Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute and Purdue University graduate Jack Bogner and Pam Schuhrke (her husband is Jim). Older brother Jeff lives in St. Louis and younger brother James is in Merrillville, Ind.

Married for 19 years, John and Mandy Bogner have two sons. Justin Bogner is a junior football, wrestling and baseball athlete at Highland. Jason Bogner is a Highland Middle School grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John and Mandy Bogner have been married for 19 years. John is the head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. He also teaches math and coaches football and wrestling.

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John Bogner (left) and oldest son Justin Bogner share a moment on the football field as assistant coach and player. John Bogner is head baseball coach and Justin Bogner a player for Highland (Ind.) High School’s baseball program.

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Jason Bogner is the youngest son of John and Mandy Bogner. His father is head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. Jason is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John Bogner is entering his 23rd season as a coach in the Highland (Ind.) High School baseball program — the sixth as head coach — in 2019.

 

Andrean, Oakland U. grad Brosseau contributes in Rays organization and beyond

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Brosseau was not drafted at the end of his college baseball career.

But the graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., has proven impactful in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

Undrafted after four seasons at Oakland (2013-16), Brosseau made it to the Double-A level in his third professional season in 2018.

Playing mostly third base, the righty swinger hit .262 with 13 home runs, three triples, 24 doubles and 61 runs batted in over 104 games for the Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits. Montgomery went 79-61 and made the Southern League playoffs.

Using advice from former Oakland head coach John Musachio, Brosseau did his best to “slow the game down” while doing what he could to contribute.

“(Musachio) talked about playing the specific game you have and getting in the lineup and helping the team out,” says Brosseau, 24. “People let the moment and pressure get to them too much. I want to just be able to stay within my game and not let the outside factors effect it.

“It’s about letting my abilities do the best for me. I’m a guy that’s going compete for you. I’m going to find a way to do what I can to help the team win.”

Brosseau (pronounced BRAW-SO) earned his degree in Health Sciences then made his pro debut in 2016 with the Gulf Coast League Rays (hitting .319 in six games). He played most of the 2017 season with the Low Class-A Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods (batting .318 in 80 contests) and also appeared with the High Class-A Charlotte (Fla.) Stone Crabs (hitting .333 in 19 games).

The next step up the Rays minor league ladder is the Triple-A Durham (N.C.) Bulls.

Showing his versatility, Brosseau has also been used at second base, first base, shortstop and even at catcher and pitcher.

Last winter, Brosseau got to experience life and baseball Down Under.

After hinting at it during the 2017 regular season, the Rays approached him about playing in the Australian Baseball League at the end of fall instructional league.

“I jumped on the opportunity,” says Brosseau. “I got my passport the next day and headed out two weeks later.”

He played in 25 games with the Perth Heat and hit .427 with six homers, two triples and 32 RBIs.

“The thing that grabbed me wasn’t the baseball, it was the people,” says Brosseau. “They were some of the most welcoming, genuine, caring people I’ve ever met.

“They treated us like family.”

Perth also offered a connection to the Region as former Gary SouthShore RailCats play-by-play announcer Dan Vaughan served as an announcer for the Heat.

A shortstop for Musachio at Oakland, where he made 183 starts, Brosseau hit .308 with 19 homers, three triples, 39 doubles and 104 RBIs for his Golden Grizzlies days. He was a first-team all-Horizon League selection in 2014 and 2016.

“I got close to him really fast in my career,” says Brosseau of Musachio. “He’s a genuine, good human being. He cares for his family, team and university.

“It was a blessing to play for him for four years.”

At Andrean, Brosseau was a contributor for 59er teams coached by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur.

“Coach Pishkur is one of those guys who connects to his players,” says Brosseau. “He was instrumental in my development process — both in baseball and as a human.”

Brosseau was the starting shortstop in the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game as Andrean topped Jasper 6-1. Among his teammates on that squad were future pros Sean Manaea (who has pitched in the big leagues for the Oakland Athletics) and Zac Ryan (who pitches in the Los Angeles Angels system).

“We’re all going down a pretty good path,” says Brosseau. “You love to see northwest Indiana guys do well in pro ball and baseball in general.”

Brosseau still keeps in-touch with former 59ers mates Mark Pishkur (Dave’s son), Cody Haver and Nick Tobye.

Born in Munster, Ind., Brosseau grew up in nearby Portage and played at Portage Little League until age 12 before helping out the traveling Duneland Flyers then Dave Sutkowski-coached Hammond (Ind.) Chiefs. The latter organization competed in tournaments all over the country.

“You got to see where you stand,” says Brosseau of playing for the Chiefs. “It was a fun experience.”

He committed to Oakland as an Andrean junior then played in the summer for Valparaiso American Legion Post 94.

Mike is the son of Mike and Bonnie Brosseau. His parents both work in the steel industry.

“I had an amazing childhood,” says the younger Mike Brosseau. “I can’t say enough about how my parents raised me. I had a lot of friends because I played a lot of sports.”

He was a soccer player in his younger days and played basketball until his sophomore year of high school.

Brosseau attended St. Bridget Catholic School in Hobart prior to going to Andrean.

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Mike Brosseau, a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., and Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., played for the Double-A Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits in the Tampa Bay Rays organization in 2018. (Montgomery Biscuits Photo)

MIKEBROSSEAUDONTENPHOTOGRAPHYMike Brosseau, who graduated from Andrean High School and Oakland University, is an infielder in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Donten Photography)