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Sakosits emphasizes aggressiveness at Earlham

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They are thinking big at a little school in Richmond.

Head baseball coach Steve Sakosits came to Earlham College (enrollment around 1,200) from the world of NCAA Division I baseball and he looks to bring that experience with his Division III squad.

“We want to be Division I-esque,” says Sakosits, a 2006 Xavier University graduate who is in his seventh season at Earlham. “I’m trying to recruit Division I type guys.”

Taking things he learned from all three of his college head coaches — John Morey, Dan Simonds and Scott Googins — Sakosits has formed his own philosophy while adopting it to D-III where scholarship money is given based on academics and need.

“It’s fit and finance,” says Sakosits, who notes that D-I baseball has to split up 11.7 baseball scholarships and that Earlham recruits can often get more money when all factors are considered. “We want to recruit students first who have the ability to work hard in the classroom and on the baseball field.”

Pushing the pace in 2017, the Quakers (22-12, 17-6) just clinched a third-straight berth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament and have a chance to be regular-season champions and tournament hosts.

Four HCAC home games remain — one against Mt. St. Joseph today (May 2) then a three-game series against Hanover (one Thursday, May 4 and two Friday, May 5).

“We’re excited about that opportunity,” says Sakosits of a chance to host four-team postseason play on the turf at Randal R. Sadler Stadium. The HCAC tournament winner is an automatic qualifier for NCAA D-III regional play.

Excitement is what the Quakers bring between the white lines.

Earlham lead all of D-III baseball in stolen bases per game with 3.85 per game and 131 total swipes.

Nate Lynch (41) and Brennan Laird (28) holds down the top two individual stolen base spots while Matt Barger (20) was fourth.

“We’re aggressive in everything we do,” says Sakosits. “We want to dictate the game. We don’t let the game come to us.

“(Our pitchers are) going to give up the free base.”

Sakosits, a 6-foot-5 right-hander as a New Jersey high schooler and at XU (where he made 68 mound appearances from 2004-06), insists his hurlers go after hitters and dictate counts  and the Quakers had 198 strikeouts and 98 walks through their first 297 innings.

Sakosits and his assistant coaches — Brandon Coduto, Beau Smith, Brandon Pennington, Garrett York and Kevin McGee — even time EC players getting on and off the field in practice.

The Quakers are expected to go hard in everything they do — academically and athletically.

“Baseball’s the fun part,” says Sakosits. “It’s just about teaching them how we’re going to go hard and what that means.”

When recruiting, Sakosits looks for hard workers. But he understands that those players may have been the “big fish in a small pond” and got by more on their athletic ability than work ethic.

“Hard work beats talent everyday,” says Sakosits.

That mentality becomes a priority once the player is on the Earlham campus.

One of the other D-I head coaches that Sakosits admires in Louisville’s Dan McDonnell and one of his quotes: “If you emphasize it, you’ll be great at it.”

Earlham’s 26-man 2017 roster features 14 who have hometowns in Indiana with eight in Ohio, two in Michigan and two in Kentucky.

Lynch (Wright State) and Laird (Cincinnati) are transfers from D-I schools. Howie Smith came to EC from D-III Marietta (Ohio).

When Sakosits arrived at Earlham he started an alumni club and the school began taking donations from alums.

“They’ve bought into the vision of the program,” says Sakosits.

Randy Sadler’s generosity led to the stadium with its turf, video scoreboard and locker rooms and a move away from sharing Don McBride Stadium (built in 1936) with Richmond and Seton Catholic high schools.

The first season at Sadler (2014) brought at 21-18 record — the program’s first above .500 since 1971. The Quakers went 26-14 in 2015 and 29-14 in 2016, qualifying for the HCAC tournament for the first two times in school history (Earlham moved from the North Coast Athletic Conference to the HCAC in the 2011).

Last spring, Earlham set school records for victories, at-bats, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. In addition, the Quakers led the HCAC in home runs, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage, walks allowed, and earned run average.

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Steve Sakosits is in his seventh season as head coach at Earlham College in Richmond. The Quakers won 21, 26 and a school-record 29 games the past three seasons and were 22-12 going into play May 2. (Earlham Photo)

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Teenagers big part of excitement for 2017 Fort Wayne TinCaps

rbilogosmall

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.

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