Tag Archives: Brian Jennings

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Saluting the prep baseball Class of 2020

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It looks like there will be a little bit of Indiana high school baseball this year.

Many programs are planning to play a few games once restrictions are lifted July 1.

Teams will be using this opportunity to recognize the Class of 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire IHSAA spring sports season, including baseball.

Regional tournaments would have been played Saturday (June 6).

Following is a sampling of some the salutes across Indiana.

ANGOLA

Hornets head coach Roger Roddy says current plans call for Monday and Thursday practices and Friday intrasquad games the last two weeks in July with senior recognition July 30. 

A family picnic is in the mix. Like many programs, Angola has been giving social media shout-outs via Twitter.

CARMEL

Greyhounds head coach Matt Buczkowski traveled to the homes of his seniors to present a commemorative bat.

DANVILLE

Warriors coach Pat O’Neil made video wrap-ups after every games of a faux season. The Hall of Famer “saw” his team win a virtual state title.

Once the quarantine began but before the season was canceled, O’Neil asked his players to send him a 20-second video of them working on offensive and defensive skills. There was an award for the most dedicated player.

There was a parade of cars at the baseball field.

“One coach gave a letter certificate, one coach gave letters or chevrons, one coach gave new jerseys,” says O’Neil. “They took individual photos in center field with new jerseys. 

“It was good to see them be enthusiastic.”

When July arrives, O’Neil is planning to have practices for junior varsity and varsity players, including seniors.

A scrimmage with a senior recognition that includes souvenir bats and a cookout is slated for July 6. 

A youth camp is also planned at the end of July.

ELKHART MEMORIAL

In the last year of the program before the merger of Elkhart Memorial and Elkhart Central, Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost conducted a Twitter tournament and voters selected their favorite jersey. 

Rost was also hired to be head coach of the Elkhart High School Lions in 2020-21.

FISHERS

Tigers head coach Matt Cherry hopes his team will be able to play doubleheaders July 13-14 with seniors being saluted. 

FRANKTON

“It’s the craziest spring I’ve ever been a part of,” says Eagles head coach Brad Douglas. “I’ve tried to reach out to the boys the best we can following all the social distancing protocol.”

Gift baskets with sunflower seeds, Gatorade, bubble gum and a baseball painted by Brian Borumn was taken to the seniors.

Tributes were placed on Twitter and new jerseys were made available for photos.

“At least once, we want to put them on and get a team picture,” says Douglas. “I don’t want these boys to be forgotten just because we didn’t get to play this year.”

GRIFFITH

Panthers head coach Brian Jennings turned on the lights at his field at 9:20 p.m. as a tribute to the Class of 2020.

HIGHLAND

Trojans head coach John Bogner, who counted son Justin among his seniors, has done his best to acknowledge the Class of 2020.

Social media has been part of that.

HUNTINGTON NORTH

Without games to play on what would have been Senior Day for the Vikings, head coach Mark Fluekiger spent 12 hours working on Viking Field.

As the sun was setting, he took photos and recorded a video tribute to seniors.

JIMTOWN

The Jimmies are looking forward to a unique doubleheader on July 11. 

Early in the day comes delayed commencement. At 7:30 p.m., Jimtown plays Bristol Americn Legion Post 143 in a game at Booster Field.

Jimmies coach Cory Stoner says he expects that all 11 of his seniors will be able to play catch with their fathers prior to playing in the contest. 

Stoner, who is also the JHS head football coach, also plans to have baseball practices in July.

LANESVILLE

Drive Main Street in Lanesville, Ind., and you’ll see banners on light poles for senior sports athletes — that includes 11 baseball seniors.

“They’ve meant a lot to our program,” says Swingin’ Eagles head coach Zach Payne. “They’e good kids and good leaders.”

Payne says there may be a joint event with Lanesville softball. There has also been talk about games in late July featuring Corydon Central, North Harrison, South Central (Elizabeth) and Crawford County.

LAPORTE

Slicers head coach Scott Upp had Schreiber Field lit up at 8:20 p.m. as a nod to his seniors.

MISHAWAKA

May 20 was supposed to be Senior Night for Mishawaka.

Cavemen head coach John Huemmer went to Freddie Fitzsimmons Field, hung nine senior jerseys on the backstop and turned on the lights.

A Senior Night dinner was being planned. An engraved gift bat will include the bats of seniors.

Huemmer is hopeful that there will be a few practices and games in July.

NEW PRAIRIE

Bear Tolman Field had the numbers of New Prairie’s eight seniors painted on it and there’s drone photos to prove it.

Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger says its not likely that high school teams will practice or play this summer though his players have connected with their various travel organizations.

“We’re hoping to get together as a team to recognize team and seniors,” says Schellinger, who was the head coach for the North at the 2019 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Madison (the 2020 series in Evansville was canceled). “(Seniors) made very big contributions to our program — on and off the field. They added to the culture and raised the expectations. They set examples for younger players.

“We still spent a lot of time together as a team and a group (in the preseason) — even though games didn’t start.”

NORTHRIDGE

Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender says his team gathered at a player’s house for a senior dinner.

Nothing is set in stone, but Brabender says he’d like to put together an alumni game in late July or early August to be staged at the new turfed athletic complex.

“It’s a little closure for seniors,” says Brabender. “They weren’t going to get to play on that field anyway.”

NORTHVIEW

Knights coach Craig Trout has gotten banners and jerseys to his players for photo opportunities.

Senior numerals have been painted on the field.

Northview is hoping to have a wiffle ball game after July 4.

“It’s hard right now for (the players),” says Trout. “It’s hard for their parents.”

NORTHWOOD

Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph has filled his time not only with online teaching and helping with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom meetings, he’s been dressing his diamond.

Senior numbers have been emblazoned on the field.

SOUTH BEND CLAY

Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold saw that uniforms were distributed for photos. 

Twitter appreciation was spread on Twitter. 

Yard signs were made as was a video to the tune of “Centerfield” by John Fogerty.

Clay assistant coach Tony Cruz, who recently was released from the hospital following COVID-19 treatment, has invited players to join his South Bend American Legion Post 151 team this summer.

WESTVIEW

“It’s an unfortunate situation for everybody at all levels,” says Warriors head coach Jason Rahn. “First and foremost, everyone’s health and safety is the top priority.”

Westview lost several top players to graduation in 2019, but there was excitement for 2020.

“We thought we did a good job of re-loading,” says Rahn.

Seniors have been spotlighted on Twitter with vintage-looking baseball cards.

The Class of 2020 has been invited for a July 16 home game against Bristol American Legion Post 143. Westview looks to play at Lakeland July 20 and host another Northeast Corner Conference foe July 22.

While the local recreation season has been canceled with local parks just now opening, travel ball (8U to 14U) is on. 

“We feel like we’re making the best of it,” says Rahn, who indicates a camp is being planned for rec ball players.

ANGOLA HORNETS

CARMEL GREYHOUNDS

Carmel bat presentation (from left): Liz, Logan and Mark Urbanowski and coach Matt Buczkowski.

DANVILLE WARRIORS

Jacob Comer
Brett Poindexter

ELKHART MEMORIAL CRIMSON CHARGERS

The winner in the Twitter tournament of Elkhart Memorial baseball jerseys.

FISHERS TIGERS

Fishers High School when baseball was played.
Fishers High School.
Senior Day at Fishers a few years back.

FRANKTON EAGLES

GRIFFITH PANTHERS

Griifith High School baseball field under the lights.
Griffith High School field is ready, but there were no games in the spring of 2020.

HIGHLAND TROJANS

HUNTINGTON NORTH VIKINGS

Huntington North High School coach Mark Flueckiger
Viking Field, Huntington North High School.

JIMTOWN JIMMIES

The lights go on at Jimtown High School’s Booster Field to honor the baseball Class of 2020.

LANESVILLE EAGLES

Senior spring athletes saluted on Main Street in Lanesville, Ind.

LAPORTE SLICERS

Zane Eskridge
Nick Moser
Matt Parrette
Grant Collins
Connor Stalbaum
Carson Crass
Mason Schroeder
Logan Schroeder

MISHAWAKA CAVEMEN

Mishawaka senior uniforms tops at Freddie Fitzsimmons Field.
Mishawaka Class of 2020 numbers at Freddie Fitzsimmons Field.

NEW PRAIRIE COUGARS

New Prairie’s Class of 2020 in past action. The senior season was canceled.
Aerial view of New Prairie numbers at Bear Tolman Field.
Drone view of New Prairie’s Bear Tolman Field with senior numbers.

NORTHRIDGE RAIDERS

NORTHVIEW KNIGHTS

This is how the 2016 Indiana high school baseball ended for Northview High School – with an IHSAA Class 3A state title. The 2020 season was wiped out because of COVID-19.

NORTHWOOD PANTHERS

A drone captured this view of NorthWood senior baseball numbers.
Here’s a different look.

SOUTH BEND CLAY COLONIALS

WESTVIEW WARRIORS

Because of COVID-19 everyone was kept at home and there was no IHSAA baseball season in 2020.

Allowed to return to practice, gratitude is the attitude for Morris Baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions, players at Morris Baseball in northwest Indiana can finally practice again and founder/president Bobby Morris couldn’t be happier.

“It’s as much fun as I’ve had on a baseball field in ages,” says Morris of a workout earlier this week. “The big reason is quarantine and the chaos going on around us.

“I feel a sense of gratitude. Our players feel a sense of gratitude — more so than in January or February.”

Morris says he hopes his organization with around 200 clients, including Chiefs travel teams, will help bring a sense of community and unity as the 2020 season moves forward.

“if we can spread a little positivity and a little gratitude, I’m all for it,” says Morris, who started his training business in 2011 and merged five years ago with the Hammond Chiefs, which mark their 30th season this year.

The first clients Morris had were 9-year-olds.

“Those kids are just now graduating and going on to play college baseball,” says Morris.

A relationship began when Brian Jennings brought Morris together with Chiefs founder Dave Sutkowski.

“It’s mutually a good fit together,” says Morris. “Dave has been pleasure to work with. We got some Chiefs coaches when we merged. They’ve been great mentors with our kids.”

The Morris Baseball mission statement: To recruit excellent talent and provide them with disciplined, well-organized, focused practices with superior instruction and place them in highly competitive opportunities to achieve principle-based success.

“If we produce great players, everything will take care of itself,” says Morris. “We make sure we have great practice facilities and plenty of practice time. 

“We try to produce well-rounded baseball players. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

Until recently, Morris Baseball and the Chiefs were housed at Franciscan Physician Network Schererville Family Health Center (formerly Omni Health & Fitness).

The organization just moved to a training facility at 1075 Breuckman Drive in Crown Point. Morris says the name for the new place will be revealed soon.

The new centrally-located home includes plenty of workout space plus classrooms, player’s lounge, kitchen and coach’s offices.

“For our kids it will be great,” says Morris. “We have internet at player desks. They can hang out there all day if they want.

“We prefer that they study and take batting practice.”

The Morris Chiefs tend to play many local games at the Crown Point Sportsplex, Central Park in Dyer, Ind., and Ho Chunk Baseball Tournaments in Lynwood, Ill.

“Our kids play a lot ,” says Morris. “We do a lot of practicing during the off-season. We play a lot during the season.

“One of our strengths is we keep our kids active throughout the year.”

This summer, the Chiefs’ 15 current teams (with manager): 2021 (Chip Pettit), 17U (Alex Triantafillo), 2022 (Bobby Morris), 16U (Trevor Howard), 15U (Andrew Lowe), 15U (Lee Turnbough), 14U (Shawn Donovan), 13U (Trevor Howard), 13U (Corderro Torres), 12U (Michael Scharnke), 12U (Alex Triantafillo), 11U (James Stovall), 10U (Derek Woerpel), 9U (Bobby Morris) and 8U (Bryan Lopez). 

Sutkowski and Mike Curiel assist Pettit with the 2021 squad. Pettit, who is superintendent of Duneland School Corp., was the first Indiana Mr. Baseball in 1992.

“It’s an extremely gifted group,” says Morris of the 2021 team. “(Pettit and Sutkowski) are two phenomenal sports minds.”

Assistants for Morris with the 2022 Chiefs are Morris Baseball general manager Mike Small plus Tim Horneman.

Bobby’s youngest son, Gavin (10), plays for the 9U Chiefs. Bobby also helps coach the 8U team.

Nick Amatulli has more than 40 years of coaching experience and helps with both of Trevor Howard’s squads. 

Some other Chiefs coaches are John Adams, Tom Blair, Brad Fedak, Brian Fernandez, Trent Howard, Dale Meyer, Kevin Peller, Brad Rohde, Kenny Siegal and Eric Spain.

“We don’t differentiate ‘A’ team and ‘B’ team,” says Morris. “It’s more geared toward the name of the coach. We don’t want the potential for the stigma there. It also incentivizes our coaches to play the game hard and represent themselves well.

“We want Chiefs teams to play hard and be smart players. Any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

Three Chiefs alums are currently playing pro baseball — third baseman Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays) and left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) in the majors and second baseman Nick Podkul (Toronto Blue Jays) in the minors.

Other players who were selected or played in pro baseball (affiliated and/or independent) include right-hander Matt Pobereyko (Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets), infielder/outfielder Ryan Dineen (Houston Astros), left-hander Trent Howard (Baltimore Orioles), right-hander Dan Faulkner (drafted by Philadelphia Philies), left-hander Blake Mascarello (Phillies), left-hander Andy Loomis (Florida Marlins, Phillies, Orioles), outfielder Ryan Basham (drafted by the Blue Jays), right-hander Cesar Carrillo (San Diego Padres), right-hander Mike Ryan (Atlanta Braves), outfielder Mike Coles (Orioles), left-hander Jon Nourie (Padres), first baseman Matt Mamula (New York Yankees) and right-hander Neal Frendling (Rays).

Morris is a 1990 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.

“Bob is an extremely decent man,” says Morris of Shinkan. “He has such a genuine, caring nature.”

Shinkan can also be strict and he expects his players to be disciplined.

“I had a great experience there with Bob,” says Morris. 

After high school, lefty-swinging infielder Morris spent three seasons at the University of Iowa playing for long-time Hawkeyes head coach Duane Banks.

“Duane was just a smart baseball guy,” says Morris. “At Iowa, they really believed in self starters. They threw you out there and expected you to compete for a position.

“That culture helped me a lot in professional baseball.”

Morris was selected as a third baseman in the ninth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs and played nine minor league seasons (1993-2001), logging 636 games and hitting .290 with 36 home runs and 326 RBIs. He reached Double-A in the Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds systems. By hitting .354 with seven homers and 64 RBIs, he was chosen as MVP of the 1994 Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs of the Low Class-A Midwest League. That team was managed by Steve Roadcap

Morris also played for teams managed by Steve Kolinsky, Dave Trembley and Bruce Kimm while with the Cubs, Joel Skinner, Jeff Datz and Max Oliveras with the Indians, Bobby Jones with the Rangers and Mike Rojas and Phillip Wellman with the Reds.

Men that stick out for Morris in his development include Trembley, Jimmy Piersall, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Joe Tanner.

While Trembley never played pro baseball, he managed (Orioles) and coached (Houston Astros) in the big leagues.

“Dave had a great habit for excellence,” says Morris, who won a High Class-A Florida State League championship with Trembley on the 1995 Daytona Cubs. “He expected a lot out of himself and a lot out of us and how we carried ourselves.”

Morris, who turns 48 in November, grew watching Piersall and Harry Caray call Chicago White Sox games on TV. When he learned Morris was from Chicagoland, Piersall became close to Morris as a minor league hitting/outfield coach.

“Jimmy took on a second grandfather role for me,” says Morris.

It was in the Cubs organization that Morris encountered Alomar.

“He’s as smart a baseball person as I’ve ever met,” says Morris. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Tanner was Morris’ first full-season hitting instructor and the inventor of Tanner Tees — a product used by Bobby and brother Hal Morris (a left-handed first baseman/outfielder who played 14 seasons in the big leagues).

“Joe was a was a renaissance man for baseball,” says Bobby Morris. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great influences.”

His earliest diamond influences came from brother Hal.

Hal is seven years older than Bobby. 

“We were constantly competing with one another,” says Bobby. “I was challenged a lot. We were always very close. As I matured and got into high school, Hal brought back stuff from his (college and pro) coaches and we worked on it. 

“That helped in fine-tuning my ability to hit at an early age.”

As youngsters, the brothers spent hours taking batting practice with father Bill pitching and mother Margaret chasing baseballs.

Bill Morris was a four-year baseball letterman Davidson (N.C.) College, went to medical school, did his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, entered the U.S. Army and was at Fort Rucker in Alabama when daughter Beth (who went on to be a state swim champion at Munster High) and son Hal (who shined in baseball for the Mustangs) were born.

The family later came to northwest Indiana, where Bill was a pediatrician working at the Hammond Clinic, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond and Community Hospital in Munster. He died at 82 in 2017.

“He taught us how to compete and how to be gentlemen,” says Bobby Morris of his father. “He was a class southern gentleman.

“My mom is still with us. She has probably shagged as many baseballs in her life as any big league pitcher.”

Bobby and Gloria Morris have three children. Besides Gavin, there’s recent Arizona State University graduate Gina (22) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis student John (19). Gloria Morris is a Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate.

“We’re Region rats,” says Bobby Morris. “I love northwest Indiana.”

The Morris family (from left): Gina, John, Gloria, Gavin and Bobby. Morris Baseball was established by Bobby Morris, a former college and professional player, in 2011. Five years ago came a merger with the Hammond Chiefs travel organization.

Veteran broadcaster Ferber enjoys painting pictures for radio audience

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana broadcaster Walt Ferber calls about 250 live sporting events a year.

He enjoys them all, but he especially appreciates baseball on the radio.

“It lets you use creativity,” says Ferber. “With football and basketball, you dot the i’s and cross the t’s. You get to paint a picture (with baseball).

“It’s my favorite sport because of that. You get a chance to tell a story.”

Ferber, program and sports director, on-air personality and account executive at WITZ AM/FM in Dubois County (the studio is located between Jasper and Huntingburg), is scheduled to do a little more painting as a statewide play-by-play voice at the State Finals for the third straight year on the IHSAA Champions Radio Network.

There are 29 affiliated stations across Indiana that will carry all or some of the four games (two each on Monday and Tuesday, June 17-18, beginning at 5:30 p.m.).

Ferber will be paired with analyst Bob Lovell for the first game (teams to be determined) on June 17 from Victory Field in Indianapolis. Ferber worked alongside Brian Jennings in 2018 and Rob Blackman in 2017.

“Victory Field at the State Finals is one of my favorite place to be,” says Ferber, who has made the trip to Indy often as the Jasper High School Wildcats have made nine appearances in the championship game with five state titles.

“I’ve been spoiled,” says Ferber. “Coach (Terry) Gobert does things the right way. He works very, very hard to get the best out of each of his players. He’s kind of an old school coach.

“(Players) take ownership of what they do. It’s something you learn from the time you’re born into the feeder system.”

That tradition has been reinforced on the air with his Ferber’s partner, Ray Howard. The former Jasper head coach who recently turned 80 will throw batting practice and then make his way to the press box.

“Ray brings a depth of information to the broadcast,” says Ferber. “The last nine year we’ve done this, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of baseball from him.”

This year, Ferber will work 37 high school games, 30 collegiate contests (between the University of Evansville on ESPN3 and the Dubois County Bombers with partner Roger Stuckey on WITZ) plus the Bluegrass World Series and 10 to 15 softball games.

The Bombers play in League Stadium, where the grandstand was built in 1894 and the park became famous when “A League Of Their Own” was filmed there.

“They put on a pretty good show,” says Ferber of the Bombers players and staff.

Ferber (facebook.com/wferber, twitter.com/WaltFerber) calls Jasper football, boys soccer, girls soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball and softball plus some Southridge, Northeast Dubois and Forest Park competition. He also describes Indiana State University women’s basketball.

There will be double duty at the 2019 State Finals for Ferber if Southridge beats South Vermillion to win the Jasper Semistate. He will be on the call for WITZ Saturday, June 8.

At 62, Ferber says he knows he will probably cut back his schedule as some point.

“I don’t see myself retiring altogether,” says Ferber. “I’m pretty lucky to do what I do.

“I’ve wanted to do it ever since I was 5 years old. I did whatever I could to make it happen.”

Ferber did his first work in radio at 14 and had his first play-by-play gig at 15.

He worked at WNAS and WREY in New Albany, becoming perhaps the youngest sports director in the state at the latter station in 1973. He graduated from New Albany High School in 1974 and earned a double major in Telecommunications and Marketing at Indiana University, graduating in 1978.

Ferber was at WTTS in Bloomington from 1974-79 and at WWWY in Columbus in 1979 before landing at WITZ in 1980.

Today, there are three entities and four frequencies — WITZ 104.7 FM, WQKZ 98.5 FM and Juan 99.1 FM and 990 AM (Spanish language station).

Ferber has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since boyhood.

“My favorite player when I was a kid was Pete Rose,” says Ferber. “For obvious reasons, I’m a big fan of Scott Rolen. I got a chance to broadcast all of his games at Jasper High School.”

WQKZ became a St. Louis Cardinals station when Rolen was with that team and has remained a Cards affiliate ever since. Ferber is scheduled to throw out a first pitch when the Chicago Cubs visit Busch Stadium July 31.

Ferber has been married to the former Melanie Padgett since 1980.

“On those nights I’m home, I usually watch what she wants to watch,” says Ferber, who has two sons (Nathan and Jonathon) and two grandchildren.

Awards have come Ferber’s way aplenty, including Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 2010, New Albany High School Hall of Fame in 2011 plus Associated Press Play by Play awards in 1995, 1996 and 1997, ISSA Marv Bates Indiana Sportscaster of the Year in 1996, Indiana Interscholastic Administrators Athletic Association Distinguished Service Award in 1997, Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Virgil Sweet Distinguished Service Award in 2005, Network Indiana Play by Play awards in 2007 and 2008, NI Sportscaster of the Year in 2008 and IHSAA Distinguished Service Media Award in 2011.

IHSAA STATE FINALS

Victory Field, Indianapolis

Indiana Champions Network

Monday, June 17

Radio: Game 1 (5:30 p.m.) — Walt Ferber (play-by-play); Bob Lovell (analyst). Game 2 (following) — Greg Rakestraw (play-by-play); Chris Walker (analyst).

TV: Games 1 & 2 — Mark Jaynes (play-by-play); Brian Jennings (analyst).

Tuesday, June 18

Radio: Game 3 (5:30 p.m.) — Scott McCauley (play-by-play); John Herrick (analyst). Game 4 (following) — Brian Jennings (play-by-play); Justin Keever (analyst).

TV: Games 3 & 4 — Greg Rakestraw (play-by-play); Rob Blackman (analyst).

ROGERSTUCKEYWALTFERBER

Roger Stuckey (left) and Walt Ferber broadcast games for the Dubois County Bombers of the summer collegiate Ohio Valley Baseball League on WITZ 104.7 FM.

WALTFERBERRAYHOWARD

Walt Ferber (left) and Ray Howard are the broadcast team on Jasper (Ind.) High School baseball games on WITZ 104.7 FM. Ferber is scheduled to call the first game of the 2019 IHSAA State Finals for the IHSAA Champions Radio Network.

 

 

 

 

Hardy The Hat Guy out to collect a baseball cap from every current IHSAA school

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A story for every cap.

Dan Hill is taking his love of baseball and fondness for collecting hats and turning it into a quest to gather an official lid for every Indiana High School Athletic Association-sanctioned program.

That’s more than 400 teams.

Along the way, he is enjoying meeting coaches, athletic directors and fans and hearing their stories.

Hill’s hobby has him traveling around the state on his free time to gather caps and stories.

“I get to see every side of the spectrum,” says Hill, who has been to schools with the best of everything and enough players to fill three full squads to those getting by with little and having around a dozen in the program.

Facebook and Twitter pages — Hardy The Hat Guy — are dedicated to the project. Hardy is his middle name and a family moniker that goes back several generations.

“I’m a guy who loves baseball and has a chronic hat habit,” says Hill.

He is not looking for a hand-out. Hill appreciates donations, but he is willing to pay for every cap.

The first hat came courtesy of Dave Clark, a disabled Vietnam War veteran from Rochester.

When Hill offered to pay for the cap, Clark’s reply was “Do two good deeds for somebody and we’re square.”

Coaches in northwest Indiana, including Jim Tucker at Kouts and Brian Jennings at Griffith, are helping by getting hats from their opponents.

“Coaches in the Region reaching out to me is really cool,” says Hill.

With help in gathering the head covers, Hill says he might be able to get all the caps and display them at the 2019 IHSAA State Finals June 17-18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

At last count, he had 72 IHSAA caps. He hopes that number will swell this week with a trip to gather hats in the Region.

Hill grew up in Clinton, Ind., and played baseball for head coach Tim Terry at South Vermillion High School, graduating in 1992. He now calls Brownsburg, Ind., home.

His day job takes him to Monument Circle in Indianapolis as a computer systems administrator.

The hat that started it all was from his youth league days playing for a team called Push.

That team also sported red jackets and was a salute to Old Push, a “local nine” from the earlier part of the 20th Century.

Even as a kid, Hill enjoyed that tie to history.

“I always joke I was born in the wrong generation,” says Hill.

Ever the optimist, Hill carries a little yellow calling card.

On one side it says “I’m not selling anything, but I’ll buy your hat” with his contact information.

On the flag side is a message he shared while coaching youngsters:

THERE IS ALWAYS THE NEXT PITCH

#FORWARD

Phillipians 3:14

That Bible passage says: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

“Everything is forward,” says Hill. “The only thing that matters is what is next.”

So what’s next?

After Hill finishes his current IHSAA collection — whenever that happens — he is considering going after hats of former Indiana high schools.

Anybody seen a cap for the Montezuma Aztecs or Rosedale Hots Hots? Here’s a hint: They both were consolidated into Riverton Parke. Montezuma’s school colors are purple and gray and Rosedale black and gold.

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Dan Hill aka “Hardy The Hat Guy” is on a quest to collect every IHSAA baseball school’s cap. That’s more than 400. He is well on his way. (Hardy The Hat Guy Photos)

 

 

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)

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

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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.

 

Swartzentruber’s career and baseball path leads him to Lake Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man from the lower left corner of the Indiana map has made it to the upper left.

And he’s enjoyed high school baseball coaching success in his new home at Lake Central.

Mike Swartzentruber graduated from Washington (Ind.) High School in 1990 then Oakland City University and began his teaching and coaching career at North Posey.

In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.

The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.

Three LC players from the Class of 2018 — second baseman Justin Graves, first baseman Conner Hoffman and outfielder Ray Hilbrich (who is out for the rest of the season with an injury) — have committed to play college baseball for the elder Griffin, who is now head coach at Purdue Northwest.

From North Posey, Swartzentruber moved to Martinsville High School for a seven-season stint.

“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.

“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”

He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.

“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.

“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”

The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.

Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.

“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”

Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.

Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.

Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.

“I knew the history,” says Swartzentruber. “I knew Coach (Jeff) Sandor had won a (Class 4A) state championship in 2012. I knew about all the 20-win seasons.”

Iwema put in words of recommendation for Swartzentruber. They now are colleagues in the business department at LC.

Iwema is an assistant to Brian Jennings at Griffith. Swartzentruber and Iwema share notes on common opponents.

After achieving a 23-9 mark and the latest of the program’s 18 sectional titles in 2017, Swartzentruber’s 2018 LC Indians are 22-5. On Wednesday, Lake Central beat Chesterton for the Duneland Athletic Conference championship. Other teams in the DAC are Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso.

The Munster Sectional, which also features East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland and Lowell, is next week.

Lake Central just celebrated Senior Night and seven players from that class have committed to play college baseball. Besides Graves, Hoffman and Hilbrich, there’s shortstop Conner Tomasic (Purdue University), left-handed pitcher Marty Ewing (Indiana University South Bend), left fielder Giovanni Lopez (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and catcher Hunter Zahorsky (South Suburban College).

From Swartzentruber’s first LC team in 2017, Ben Nisle went on to Purdue, Joe Graziano to Butler University, Matt Litwicki to Indiana University, Kyle Freel to Purdue Northwest, Jarrett Lopez to Indiana Tech, Nick Bandura to Indiana Wesleyan, Chris Fundich to Danville Area Community College and Tyler Frank to play football at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.

“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.

“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.

“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”

Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.

“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”

Grant Weinmann, who played at Lowell High School and went to the University of Louisville, is LC’s pitching coach.

“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”

Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.

“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.

John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.

Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.

Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.

“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.

“My biggest influence is my dad.”

Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.

Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.

“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.

“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”

At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.

LAKECENTRALINDIANS

MIKESWARTZENTRUBER

After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.

 

Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

IHSBCALOGO

The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.

“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.

“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”

For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.

The 2017 Panthers will meet South Bend St. Joseph in the first game of the Class 3A Griffith Regional Saturday, June 3. The second semifinal pits Western against Glenn with the final at night.

Jennings respects St. Joe, coached by John Gumpf. The two met years ago when Jennings was working Notre Dame baseball camps and Gumpf was an Irish assistant to Paul Mainieri.

This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.

Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.

“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.

Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.

As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”

When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.

“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”

A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.

Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”

Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”

Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

BRIANJENNINGS

Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.

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