Tag Archives: Boone Grove

Boone Grove’s Antone takes lessons from Andrean’s Pishkur, adds his own twist

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone has learned plenty of baseball from Dave Pishkur.

The first-year head coach and the veteran will both have their teams in the IHSAA State Finals Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Antone takes his Boone Grove Wolves into the Class 2A title game against Southridge. It will be the day’s second contest (Game 1 pits Daleville against University for the 1A crown at 11 a.m.).

Pishkur, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 900 career wins and five state championships to his credit, leads his 2018 Andrean 59ers into the the 3A final against Silver Creek in the nightcap.

The two have already chatted on the phone.

“It’ll be nice for us to communicate during the week,” says Pishkur.

“I talked to him (Sunday) night and asked him what to expect,” says Antone. “I’m sure we’ll talk more as the week goes on.

“One thing I’ve learned from (Pishkur) is to be a life-long learner. I also like doing my own research.”

A 2009 Chesterton High School graduate, Antone played his first two high school seasons for Pishkur at Andrean and his last two for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton.

Antone was an assistant coach for Campbell’s Trojans in 2015 and Pishkur’s 59ers in 2016 and 2017. He was also a teacher at Andrean those two years.

Pishkur has his program in the state championship game for the seventh time by improving at the most-important time of the season.

“They weren’t a very good team at the two-thirds mark,” says Pishkur, whose club won the Kankakee Valley Sectional, Griffith Regional and Kokomo Semistate. “They bought into what I asked them to do. They’ve gotten better.

“We’ll see what we do on the big stage.”

Boone Grove will be making its first state championship game appearance.

But finishing the year at Victory Field comes does not come as a shock to Antone and his team.

“That was a our goal from Day 1 when we set our team goals last fall,” says Antone. “We’ve done everything we possibly could to get there. We’re not totally surprised by it.”

A team-first mentality and modern training techniques have helped BG have a strong regular season then take Hebron Sectional, Whiting Regional and Plymouth Semistate titles.

“Our guys have bought into the concept of ‘the team, the team, the team,’” says Antone. “They work at being good teammates.”

The Wolves put in off-season work in the weight room and at Saint Anthony Sports Medicine Institute in Crown Point, where trainer Kevin Devine took them through agility, endurance, flexibility, speed and strength workouts.

Antone also introduced the HitTrax Baseball hitting simulator at Boone Grove. He says they are the second high school in Indiana to get one (Andrean is the other).

The technology allows for measurement of exit velocity, launch angle and studying the swing.

The Wolves also started doing Driveline Baseball throwing and hitting programs. The throwing program is individualized for ages and positions and there are an in-season and off-season routines.

The hitting program involves a series of different-sized bats for overload/underload training.

“(These tools) allow us to measure everything and that’s huge,” says Antone. “If it’s important, we measure it. We want to see what progress is being made.

“We’ve been working hard and competing.”

Antone models his program on some of the things Pishkur does at Andrean, including practice plans, and also adds his own twist.

The Wolves and 59ers both employ the number system for signs.

Pishkur has been using it at least as far back as a his first state championship team in 2005. The coach has a list of numbered plays and players wear a wristband with the same information.

“It might say HR for hit-and-run or S1 for a sacrifice down the first base line,” says Pishkur, who picked up the sign system at a clinic from the Texas A&M staff. “There must be 30 things we can do. We are able to expand our offense.

“I couldn’t remember all the signs the other way.”

Some of the numbers mean nothing. Some of the plays may lie dormant until just the right moment.

“If we need them, they’re there for us,” says Pishkur.

Antone favors the system because it makes thing simpler for himself and his players and is more efficient.

“Besides, I like doing things a little differently than everybody else,” says Antone.

Certified as a physical education and health teacher, Antone was hired to coach at Boone Grove with no openings in that area. Instead, he taught in the alternative school in 2017-18.

“It was a challenge,” says Antone. “But I grew a lot as an educator and as a person, too.”

Another link between Andrean and Boone Grove is a family one.

Joe Plesac Sr., brother of former big league pitcher Dan Plesac, is Pishkur’s pitching coach at Andrean and his brother-in-law.

Joey Plesac Jr., Joe’s son and Dave’s nephew, is Antone’s pitching coach at BG.

Joey Plesac played at Andrean and then DePauw University.

“I’m really glad to have him on staff,” says Antone of Plesac. “He’s done a good job calling the games for us this year.”

Andrean beat Jay County for the Kokomo Semistate crown by frequently using a familiar postseason strategy — the bunt.

“I couldn’t manage in the major leagues because they don’t allow that,” says Pishkur. “But in high school, it’s a pretty good weapon. And at the college level, it’s a pretty good weapon.

“It’s a weapon for us and we have to take advantage of it.”

Gordie Gillespie, who won more than 2,400 games in four sports including baseball, was a big proponent of the bunt.

“He said, in the tournament, the team that executes the bunt and defends the bunt is going to win,” Pishkur says of Gillespie, who died in 2015 in Joliet, Ill. “We’ve taken that to heart and we’ve done a really good job in the tournament with that.”

IHSAA STATE FINALS

At Victory Field, Indianapolis

Friday, June 15

Class 4A: Fishers (28-7) vs. Indianapolis Cathedral (23-8-1), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 16

Class 1A: Daleville (21-9) vs. University (28-6), 11 a.m.

Class 2A: Boone Grove (21-5) vs. Southridge (25-6), 2 p.m.

Class 3A: Andrean (30-6) vs. Silver Creek (26-3), 5 p.m.

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In his first year as a head coach, Pat Antone has Boone Grove High School in the IHSAA Class 2A State Finals. The 2009 Chesterton graduate was on the Andrean staff in 2016 and 2017. The 59ers will be going for a 3A state crown Saturday, June 9 in Indianapolis.

 

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Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the IHSAA 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) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

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University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

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University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.

 

 

Thompson-led Tecumseh Braves small but mighty in southern Indiana baseball circles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With around 300 students, Tecumseh Junior/Senior High School is among the smaller IHSAA members.

But just because the Braves compete in Class 1A in the baseball postseason, that didn’t keep them from being competitive against larger schools during the 2018 regular season.

Tecumseh, which takes a 20-9 mark into the southern Plainfield Semistate at noon CST Saturday, June 9 against University (27-6), went 4-4 as the lone 1A school in the nine-member Pocket Athletic Conference.

It’s the first time in years, the Braves have finished in the top five in the PAC, which features 3A’s Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central and 2A’s Forest Park, North Posey, Southridge, South Spencer and Tell City.

Southridge is in the 2A Jasper Semistate. North Posey bowed to Southridge in the Austin Regional championship game.

At the 3A Vincennes Lincoln Sectional, Gibson Southern was shaded by Washington in the championship game and Pike Central lost a one-run decision to Washington in the first round.

At the 2A Tell City Sectional, South Spencer lost to North Posey in the final. Tell City was edged by South Spencer in the semifinals. Forest Park was beaten by North Posey in the first round.

In non-conference play, the Braves topped 4A’s Castle (a Plainfield Semistate qualifier), Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison and was competitive with Evansville North and Evansville Reitz and 3A’s Evansville Bosse.

His peers named first-year Tecumseh head coach Ted Thompson an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district coach of the year.

“We really have a tough conference,” says Thompson. “It definitely improves us and makes us better for tournament time. (Games against larger schools) taught us how to be resilient, how to never give up and how to win.”

Tecumseh, located in the Warrick County town of Lynnville, Ind., counts Spencer Buse, Steven Molinet, Chase Howell, Josh Jagelewski, Aaron Beard and Gavin Oxley as its top pitchers. Beard is a senior and Howell a sophomore. The rest are juniors. Oxley is the lone left-hander.

When not pitching, Buse is usually the designated hitter, Molinet in center field, Howell at DH, Jagelewski in right field, Beard at shortstop and Oxley in left field.

Beard, Molinet, junior first baseman Woody Brucken and freshman Jalen Oxley have led the Braves on offense.

Coincidentally, their cousin — freshman Adam Oxley — is on the University team.

Tecumseh, which has 24 players in the program this year, has just three seniors — Beard, second baseman Carson White and right-hander Dalton Wesselman. Both are college baseball commits — Beard at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and White at Oakland City University.

“We are a young team,” says Thompson. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen and a lot of juniors.”

Semistate preparation will resemble the practices that got the Braves ready for the Jasper Regional, where they bested Borden 1-0 and Barr-Reeve 7-0.

“It’ll be the same routine,” says Thompson. “We’ll work on fundamentals. We’re not going to change a thing.”

Thompson’s Tecumseh coaching staff includes Kennan Barnett (pitching coach) and Seth Gorman.

Home games have been played on-campus at Braves Ballpark. A new stadium, with Bermuda grass and other amenities, is expected to be ready for the 2019 season.

To make a connection with youngsters that feed into Tecumseh, Thompson has been planning camps and working with Elberfeld Baseball League and Lynnville Ballpark.

Thompson is a 1991 graduate of Princeton Community High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte.

After two seasons at Vincennes University, Thompson played two more for coach Les Hall at Florida Tech.

Thompson calls Hall “a class act.”

“He was always quietly telling you,” says Thompson of the man who died in 2016 at 80. “You knew where he stood. He expected excellence.”

It was at the Melbourne, Fla., school that Thompson got to catch knuckleball of alum Tim Wakefield in pre-spring training bullpen sessions and meet former Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” catcher Andy Seminick. Florida Tech plays on Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field.

Thompson was an assistant coach to Curt Welch for nine seasons at Castle High School and then served three years as assistant and recruiting coordinator to John Adams at Vincennes U.

“Coach Welch is an honorable individual,” says Thompson. “He had that ability to always work and challenge the kids. He always led by example with his hard work.”

Thompson is employed as a traveling health insurance salesman. He works out his schedule so he can coach baseball.

Ted and Sheri Thompson have four children — son Dillon (23), daughters Megan (22) and Payton (17) and son Drake (16). Payton is heading into her senior year at Castle while Drake will be a junior.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

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Tecumseh baseball coach Ted Thompson meets with his Braves players during a 2018 mound conference. Tecumseh is in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

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In his first season as head baseball coach in 2018, Ted Thompson has the Tecumseh Braves in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate.

 

Success follows Eastside’s Willard from softball to baseball diamonds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Willard enjoyed plenty of success in his time as head softball coach at Eastside High School in Butler, Ind.

In 23 seasons, he Blazers softballers won 13 sectional titles (three in the IHSAA single-class era and five each in Class 1A and 2A).

When Jason Pierce left the head baseball post at Eastside and Aaron’s oldest son, Cade Willard, was a junior, he decided to take over the program.

In his second season (2017), the Blazers won the 2A Westview Sectional. Eastside did it again in 2018, besting Westview in the title game and earning a berth in the 2A Whiting Regional.

The Blazers (18-8) face Boone Grove in the second semifinal around noon CST (Hammond Bishop Noll plays South Adams at 10 a.m. CST) at Oil City Stadium. The championship is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

“Last year, we were built around pitching,” says Willard, who sent right-handers Cade Willard (redshirt at Fort Wayne), Conner Dove (Trine University), Jackson White (Franklin College) and middle infielder/closer Zach Orn (Ivy Tech Northeast) on to college baseball. They were among nine seniors. “A lot of those guys had played a lot of baseball.”

This year, the Blazers are not as experienced on the mound but have gotten the job done.

The staff is led by senior Chris Ballentine and also features juniors McGuire Jacobs, Nick Shewman, Chase Franz and Joe White and freshman Wade Miller. All but lefty Miller, who plays center field, are right-handers.

White is the team’s No. 1 catcher and joins Ballentine and Franz among Eastside’s most-productive hitters. The squad’s only other senior is first baseman Riley Thompson.

“Our guys have done a great job on the mound,” says Willard. “We’ve been solid defensively for the most part. The top of our order has been pretty good and we’ve now got some guys hitting in the bottom part.”

Eastside is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference. The NECC was led in 2018 by Angola (9-2) and Lakeland (9-2), followed by Fairfield (8-3), Westview (7-4), Eastside (7-4), Garrett (6-5), Fremont (5-6), Churubusco (5-6), West Noble (4-7), Prairie Heights (3-8), Central Noble (3-8) and Hamilton (0-11).

Willard’s assistant coaches are Tony Emenhiser, Garth Fiedler, John Gravante and Bryce Yoder.

The Blazers play their home games on-campus. The field has a wooden outfield fence and a few years ago, a net backstop was installed for clearer viewing by spectators.

A 1984 Eastside graduate, Willard went on to play baseball for four seasons at Huntington College (now Huntington University). His freshmen year was also the first in charge for head coach Mike Frame.

After receiving a physical education degree in 1989, Willard returned to Eastside and began teaching. He became athletic director and assistant principal in 1999 — positions he has held ever since.

Aaron and Terri Willard have three children — Madison, Cade and Owen. Madison Willard graduated this spring from Ball State University and is to marry Dalton Shetler in June. Owen Willard is an eighth grader.

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Eastside celebrates its second straight IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball championship in 2018. Assistant coach Tony Emenhiser, seniors Caleb Ballentine and Riley Thompson and head coach Aaron Willard pose with the trophy.

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Eastside High School head baseball coach Aaron Willard (25) gets the bucket treatment from his team after they won the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional.

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The Eastside High School Blazers hoist the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional baseball trophy as head coach Aaron Willard (right) takes in the moment.

Year of maturity pays off for Mack’s Morgan Township Cherokees

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going through a tough stretch at the end of the 2017 high school baseball season has paid off for the 2018 Morgan Township Cherokees.

In Cory Mack’s first season as head coach, he took over a program with just two returning varsity starters.

“The other boys were being educated with every game that we played,” says Mack.

Morgan got off to a 15-3 start before hitting a stretch of bigger schedules. Losing one-run games to Valparaiso, Hobart and John Glenn along the way, the IHSAA Class 1A Cherokees (about 250 students) lost nine straight and finished 15-12 in 2017. “It taxed my boys mentally.”

Having gone through that, Morgan did not experience that kind of skid this spring.

“There is maturity,” says Mack. “They know how to make those adjustments that are necessary to right the ship.”

The Cherokees beat Washington Township 8-0 Monday, May 28 to win the fourth sectional in program history (2004, 2012 and 2013 are the others) — avenging a 10-0 regular-season loss to the Senators — and take a 20-5 record into the Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

“(The loss to Washington Township) burned in the pit of their stomach,” says Mack, who admits to getting upset during that contest. “It may have fueled the fire for sectional.

“The guys could not have played a more fundamentally-sound game (in the rematch).”

Morgan meets Fremont at 11 a.m. EST Saturday, followed by Northfield vs. South Central (Union Mills). The regional final is slated for 7 p.m.

The Cherokees’ top pitchers are senior right-hander Colin Mack (the coach’s youngest son and an Indiana University South Bend commit), junior right-hander Hunter Swivel, senior righty Jeremy Landgrebe and senior lefty Tyler Bush. When not pitching, Mack is at shortstop, Swivel at third base, Landgrebe at second base and Bush sometimes plays first base.

Mack (the school’s all-time hits and stolen base leader), Swivel and senior center fielder Connor Malmquist (a Trine University soccer commit) are hitting above .400 and senior first baseman Colton Rosenbaum and junior catcher Cody Maxwell are over .350.

Morgan has plenty of speed and base-stealing threats.

“We force the issues to make things happen,” says Mack. “As long as we can put a guy on base, we can score without a hit.

“We make something happen when nothing is really working.”

Even though only two seniors are gong to the next level for athletics, most are college-bound.

“They’re all intelligent kids,” says Cory Mack. “Sometimes they think too much and don’t react enough.

“Athletes play off their gut and not their brain.”

Mack’s assistant coaches are Paul Lipski and son Tyler Mack.

The Valparaiso-Based Cherokees play in the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

A 1991 LaCrosse graduate, Mack played four seasons of baseball for the Tigers. His head coach was Bill Drook. He spent a couple years in college before coming home to begin raising a family.

Cory and Michelle Mack have two boys. Seven years separate LaCrosse graduate Tyler Mack and Morgan senior Colin Mack.

The younger son has gained experience with a number of travel baseball organizations over the years, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects, Motor City Baseball Club Hit Dogs, Ironmen Baseball Club, Collier/DB A’s and Midwest Mayhem.

Many of his teammates and opponents are playing or have committed to play at the NCAA Division I level.

“I was trying to expose my son to as many conditions and as many different styles of teammates as I could,” says Mack. “Drop him in anywhere and you’re going to get the same performance.”

For his folks, it’s a chance to do something they really love — spend time together at the ballpark.

“We’re baseball junkies,” says Cory Mack. “We live for this stuff. For my wife and I, it’s like vacation. It’s fun to watch a kid who loves playing. We’ve been everywhere with this kid.

“It’’s been a blast.”

Colin Mack has played  multiple times at places like the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and East Cobb. His club won a title in a 106-team tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

In all of his years of coaching and watching travel baseball, Cory Mack has witnessed too many younger kids throwing breaking balls.

“A lot of coaches letting kids throw curve balls way too soon,” says Mack, noting that the strain takes its tolls on arms, muscles and ligaments that are still developing. “Guys rely on a curveball before they can locate a fastball. The curveball is just putting miles on an engine. Every dad in the world needs to teach his kid to locate a fastball and throw a straight change.

“Kids always think the curve ball is sexy, but the only thing it does is slow the ball down. The change-up does the same thing.”

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Cory Mack (far right in top photo and far left in bottom photo) is in his second season as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso. His Cherokees are in the IHSAA Class 1A Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

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Organization, persistence help Buckingham, South Adams Starfires enjoy baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Buckingham sweats the details.

It is not unusual for the 11th-year head baseball coach at South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., to spend an hour crafting his practice plan.

Buckingham, a 1998 South Adams graduate, played for and later coached one season under former Starfires head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dean Stahly.

Looking back, Buckingham sees how Stahly, who led South Adams from 1971-2008, had a knack for organization.

“It may sound crazy, but I want to make sure each of those players are on the move so they’re not bored and get the instruction they need so they can grow as a player,” says Buckingham. “With limited resources and limited coaches, you’ve got to be creative in that regard.”

South Adams had 33 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules this spring.

At Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, Buckingham played four years for Greg Brooks and gained an appreciation for persistence.

“In baseball, a lot of bad things happen and a lot of good things happen and you still keep going,” says Buckingham, who also was head coach at Frankton High School for five seasons in Madison County, Ind. The Eagles were 2A state runners-up in 2003. “You have to stay the course and keep going.”

Buckingham has taken that knowledge and applied it. This spring, it’s helped South Adams win a second straight IHSAA sectional title (the ninth in program history and second in a row) and earn a spot in the Class 2A Whiting Regional. The IHSBCA No. 2-ranked Starfires play Hammond Noll at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Eastside vs. Boone Grove. The regional final is slated for 6 p.m. CST.

At 27-2, the 2018 South Adams squad has already tied the 1982 state finalist team (27-6-1) for the school’s most single-season baseball victories ever. The school also produced a state runner-up in 1972.

The Starfires are led on the mound and at the plate by junior Grant Besser. The left-handed pitcher/shortstop has a 9-0 record with six saves to go along with a .511 batting average, six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles.

The South Adams mound staff also features sophomore left-hander Collin Shaffer (6-1), freshman right-hander Adam Besser (6-0), senior right-handers Austin Davidson (3-0, 3 saves) and Mark Cleary (3-1, 1 save).

When not pitching, Shaffer plays first base and Cleary is the team’s starting catcher.

Besides Besser, Cleary (.412) and senior second baseman Joe Stuber (.396) are the top offensive threats.

No current players have yet made college baseball commitments. South Adams graduates Collin Affolder (Bethel College) and Chandler Ingle (Goshen College) just finished their collegiate careers. Blake Fox (Bluffton University) wound up his in 2017.

Buckingham’s coaching staff includes Craig McKean (former head coach at Southern Wells for 10 years before coming back to his alma mater), Jim Buckingham (Brad’s father), Branden Alberson, Chad Mitchell and Blade Rheinhart.

South Adams belongs to the Allen County Athletic Conference (along with Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, Southern Wells and Woodlan).

South Adams plays its home games on-campus at Harry F. Anderson Field. The facility named for the school’s first athletic director and a former baseball coach just got new pro-style brick dugouts last year.

A fundraising campaign brought in around $90,000 for the project.

“They’re pretty neat,” says Buckingham. “We took a lot of measurements at Parkview Field (in Fort Wayne).”

The Starfires try to do projects each year to improve Anderson Field.

“That’s foundational in our prorgam,” says Buckingham. “We want to make it a hangout place for our players — something they want to come to. That’s something we have control over. We don’t have control over how much talent we have.”

The South Adams Youth League, which has a 12-person board that Buckingham and Starfires head softball coach Jessie O’Dell both sit on, is a feeder system for the high school.

Brad Buckingham is an eighth grade math teacher at the high school while wife Ashley Buckingham is a physical education instructor and head volleyball coach at the high school. The couple have four children (one boy and three girls) — Duke (8), Emmaline (6), Elizabeth (4) and Everly (who turns 2 next week).

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The Buckingham family celebrates a 2018 IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Adams. Brad and Ashley are in the back. In the front (from left): Duke, Everly, Emmaline and Elizabeth. Brad Buckingham is in his 11th season as Starfires head coach.

Kruszka brings passion to South Central Satellites

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some say that baseball is just a game.

Ryan Kruszka has a different take.

“I owe everything in my life to a little white ball,” says Kruszka, the head baseball coach and athletic director at South Central (Union Mills) High School in LaPorte County. “If (Butler University) coach (Steve) Farley didn’t come see me play (for Joliet Central High School) against Lockport, Ill., my life would have turned out completely different.”

That chance to play college baseball led to Kruszka meeting his future wife (Ryan and Lexy reside in Valparaiso with daughters Rowan, 7, and Lilah, 4) and has allowed him to coach and give back to the sport that means so much to him.

“If I can give one, two or three kids in my lifetime the opportunity that I had … Developing the relationships with coaches and players,” says Kruszka, who enters his sixth season as Satellites head coach in 2018. “That’s what it’s all about. I want to give them experiences they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”

South Central hoisted IHSAA Class 1A sectional championship trophies in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

The Elwood, Ill., native impressed Farley as a right-handed pitcher and was signed to play NCAA Division I baseball in Indianapolis.

Kruszka toed a rubber for the Bulldogs for four seasons. He was a captain and learned plenty from his head coach.

Farley taught the mental side of the game.

“Baseball is such a mental game,” says Kruszka, 31. “Especially as a pitcher, you have to be 100 percent dedicated to what you’re doing.”

Farley insisted his players do the little things right and sweat the details.

“Control what you control and let the other things fall in place,” says Kruszka. “Control your effort and your attitude.”

Kruszka pitched one season of independent professional baseball with the 2009 Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League.

His coaching career began when Speedway High School head coach Marcus McCormick asked him to run the junior varsity squad.

From McCormick, Kruszka learned how to run a program and how to motivate players.

“He got those kids to play,” says Kruszka, who has Speedway on SC schedule. “He had a handle on everything.”

Kruszka then became pitching coach on Eric Mattingly’s staff at Brownsburg High School.

“He knew how to connect with the kids,” says Kruszka of Mattingly. “He was a great talker and motivator. He was able to create a fun practice and I’ve been able to bring that (to South Central). If we can’t get a practice done in two hours, I’m doing something wrong.”

Jarad Miller, Kruszka’s varsity assistant coach, also has a D-I college background (Valpo U.). Miller saved 17 games as a second- and third-team All-American in 2009.

Both Kruszka and Miller teach the players that playing baseball is not “cookie cutter.”

“We give as many examples as possible why teams we were on were successful or why they were not successful,” says Kruszka. “We want them to develop their own philosophy that shows them success. There’s no clear-cut way.

“If you can find a way that works for you, take it and use it. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Duke Eaton and Brian Glisic are SC’s JV coaches.

Kruszka and company face the challenges of small-school baseball (enrollment at South Central is around 300).

“The group of guys you’ve got is the group of guys you got,” says Kruszka. “You’ve got to get the most out of them. It’s not like Penn where it’s next guy up. It’s the hand you’ve been dealt.

“You do what you can with your talent level and the positions they can play.”

The Satlellites have two Class of 2019 D-I commits in outfielder Carson Husmann (Illinois State University) and corner infielder Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University, where father Brian Schmack is head coach).

Kruszka says he may need to use Husmann in the infield and Schmack behind the plate next spring.

Then there’s the question of who will take the mound.

The 2017 season brought with it new IHSAA pitch count rules (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).

“It’s a positive and something that needed to happen,” says Kruszka. “I think it’s a good thing to have a concrete system. At 1A level, it’s tough. You have to train everybody to be ready to pitch. You may need an inning or two to bridge that gap. We don’t have the numbers of those bigger programs. We have to strategize.”

Kruszka would like to see the JV limits brought up to meet the varsity standards.

“We’ve got so many kids floating between varsity and JV anyway,” says Kruszka. “We need to do some tweaks. But it’s the right thing moving forward. I think they’ll get it right.”

South Central plays on-campus on a field with sunken dugouts. Through a generous community donation, the infield has been laser-graded and re-sodded.

The Satellites are part of the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville). It’s a strong small-school conference, often well-represented in the Class 1A and Class 2A statewide rankings.

Every PCC school plays one another during the season, followed by a blind-draw tournament.

Adding athletic director to his job responsibilities keeps Kruszka hopping, especially in the spring with its weather-related postponements. He is grateful for all the help from assistants and former AD’s still in the school system.

As AD, Kruszka definitely has a say in his non-conference schedule and slates games against bigger schools.

“We’ll play anyone,” says Kruszka. “We’ll take our lumps, but we will win some, too. Seeing bigger arms — that plus-velocity with the breaking ball to go with it —  helps us in the tournament at the end of the year.”

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South Central (Union Mills) Hills School head baseball coach Ryan Kruszka (left) celebrates a sectional title with wife Lexy and daughters Lilah (4) and Rowan (7).