Tag Archives: Bob Dixon

UIndy ‘late bloomer’ Rivas grows into D-II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw.
All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
“The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit.
“I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.”
Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team.
“The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension.
The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.).
“My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas.
At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant.
“He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players.
“It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.”
Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things.
“When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider.
“(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up.
During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.
“We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.”
Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face.
In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways.
Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties.
Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon.
The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore.
Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993.
Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119).
Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career.
“I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018.
Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized.
“When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.”
He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21.
“I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas.
A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic.
He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team.
“I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas.
This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.
“That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did.
This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish.
Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year.
He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams.
Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.

Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade.
He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19.
Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U.
He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies.
“I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.”
The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies.
“We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.”
With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile.
“We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.”
A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed.
“We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.”
Howard says bullpens will not begin until January.
“Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.”
Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks.
“We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.”
Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting.
In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity.
Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall.
Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
“Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.”
Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies.
Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Nelson came up in baseball surrounded by successful coaches. There were men who believed in discipline. 

He played for Tom Levandoski at Portage (Ind.) High School, graduating in 1992. The Indians were in the Duneland Athletic Conference with LaPorte, led by legend Ken Schreiber (seven state titles and 1,010 victories). 

Levandoski was a student manager under Hall of Famer Schreiber at LaPorte and emulated the esteemed coach.

“He was very hard core and no-nonsense,” says Nelson of Levandoski. “But he got a lot out of his guys.

“We beat LaPorte in the (1991 LaPorte) Regional final, 1-0. And we didn’t win there (often).”

Nelson knows about the way former McCutcheon and current Twin Lakes coach Jake Burton goes about his business and appreciates it.

“It got to see how Coach Schreiber carried himself,” says Nelson. “He would hold guys responsible and accountable with how they acted off the field and that carries on the field.

“That’s getting more and more challenging these days.”

Nelson, a former head coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., and assistant at Portage and Washington Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., took over as head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., for the 2019 season.

He has also been a head girls basketball coach at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City, Hanover Central and River Forest before taking over at KV in 2018-19.

In the spring of 2019, the Kougars baseball team had eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean down 7-3 in the seventh inning of the Kankakee Valley Sectional championship game before bowing 8-7.

“That’s how close we are to beating a good team,” says Nelson. “But you’ve got to get 21 outs.

“A lot of kids from that team that are back (two years later).”

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“Boys are champing at the bit and ready to get back on the field,” says Nelson. “We have a mix of seniors doing a good job of being leaders with juniors following their lead and sophomores continuing that.

“I like our depth.”

In the fall, the Kougars held IHSAA Limited Contacted Period practices outside as often as possible with plenty of fungos to fielders and swings by hitters.

“Being out on the field again was awesome,” says Nelson. “We had 20-plus (participants) every time.”

Nelson expects 40 to 45 players in the spring to fill out varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams. 

Winter workouts have consisted of plenty of weight room and batting cage work. When the weather has allowed, KV players have gone outside and used the baseball field on turf football playing or practice fields.

“We have a pretty nice field,” says Nelson of the lighted facility that has served many times as a sectional host site. Beyond the right field fence is a corn field. In left there is woods.

Assistant coaches for 2021 are Jim Pint (varsity), Jordon VanWienen (varsity), Jeremy Rozhon (JV) and Steve Schmidt (freshmen).

DeMotte Little League and Wheatfield Little League feed the Kankakee Valley program. Though slowed down in 2020 by the pandemic, Nelson hopes to establish a junior high program.

Nolan McKim, a 2020 KV graduate, is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. There are no college commitments yet from current Kougars.

Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).

The conference plays two-game home-and-away series on consecutive weekdays.

The Kougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academy, John Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

“He was just great for the kids — a players’ coach,” says Nelson. “He would give the shirt off his back for the boys. He had them playing hard for each other.

“Portage takes a blue-collar/us-against-the-world mentality. We stuck together and fought.”

Randy Roberts is the head coach at Washington Township. His 2019 Senators were Class 1A state runners-up.

“Randy Roberts is the best coach of any sport in northwest Indiana,” says Nelson. “He is very humble. The (Porter County Conference) is a very good small-school baseball conference.”

Nelson was introduced to Roberts by brother Dustin. Max Roberts, Randy’s son and a Valparaiso High graduate, has pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization.

At Hanover Central, Nelson took the Wildcats to the 2011 Class 2A championship game where they were topped 8-1 by South Spencer. HC ace Andy Wellwerts stuck out 128 batters in 73 innings that season. He went on to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series.

Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, set the state career record for hits (206) and went on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the Philadelphia Phillies system.

Nelson holds an elementary education degree with a physical education endorsement from Valparaiso University, where he played one season of baseball for Paul Twenge. Merel Nelson, Doug’s father, was VU’s athletic equipment manager.

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

Doug is married to Ann Marie and has two sons — Nathan Ramian (28) and Kale Nelson (21). Nathan has coached freshman baseball and girls basketball at Portage and works in the IT department for Portage Township Schools). Kale is a junior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

Doug Nelson (left) enjoys time with wife Ann Marie. Doug is head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, Ind.