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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.

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.

 

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Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame calls ‘Old School’ Murphy of Valparaiso

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Murphy describes himself as “Old School.”

Murphy stayed loyal to his old school and his community, choosing to remain in Valparaiso — the city of his birth.

He attended Valpo schools and graduated from Valparaiso High School as senior class president in 1961.

Along the way, Murphy shined in football, basketball and baseball. He picked up plenty of baseball knowledge from nice man named Bob Rhoda — a coach he admired and, one day, would replace as the man in charge of the Vikings on the diamond.

His peers thought enough of Murphy’s career that he will be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at a dinner Saturday, Jan. 27 in Indianapolis. Other honorees will include Rich Andriole, Colin Lister, LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Kellman.

After his days as Valparaiso student, Murphy traveled less than 50 miles south for higher education, attending Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer and graduating in 1965 as a social studies major and English minor.

Where did he go from there?

Back to Valpo, of course.

Murphy took a teaching job at his alma mater that would last 37 years. He taught a few English classes in the early years then concentrated on social studies and helped generations know about U.S. Government and U.S. History.

Pat and wife Nancy would raise two boys — Michael and Tim.

Michael went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marines, leading a squadron of Stingrays at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while marrying and giving his folks two granddaughters. Tim earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and moved out east.

Both Murphy boys gave their parents — married 45 years in 2017 — a reason to travel with Michael stationed for three years in Spain and Tim spending time in Brazil. In retirement, Pat enjoys walking with Nancy and sometimes gets her to accompany him on the golf course.

Back in Porter County, Indiana, their father was making a mark as a educator and a coach.

Pat Murphy spent 19 seasons on the Vikings football staff led by a pair of Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Tom Stokes and Mark Hoffman.

With Stokes in charge, Valpo won an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 1975 — the first of three straight 3A title-takers from the Duneland Athletic Conference. Merrillville was state champions in 1976 and Portage reigned in 1977.

“It was up to the ball and go,” says Murphy of Valpo’s single-wing attack. “We wore teams down.”

Murph spent four seasons as a VHS baseball assistant to Rhoda then led the program for 28 more, retiring after the 1999 season.

“He was a very nice person, a very kind man,” says Murphy of Rhoda, who is also in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. “He was very knowledgeable.”

Murphy went into the Valparaiso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 after leading his team to 483 victories, 13 sectional crowns and two DAC championships.

All this was achieved against a schedule that regularly featured IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches — men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Highland’s Dan Miller, Plymouth’s Bill Nixon and Munster’s Bob Shinkan.

You had to play a hard-nosed brand of baseball to have any success.

“I had to play Schreib (at LaPorte) a minimum of three times (regular season and postseason) to get out of the regional,” says Murphy. “There were times four Duneland schools were in the regional.

“It was extremely competitive. You have to mean business. It’s not something you take lightly. In fact, you take it very seriously. In one week, I may play against three Halll of Famers.

“I’m honored to be considered one of them.”

Murphy’s philosophy: “Work hard, play smart, and most of all, have fun!”

“You can’t get things done unless you work hard,” says Murphy.

The catcher who blocks nasty pitch after nasty pitch is able to do so because of all the time he spent having balls whizzed at him in practice.

“Catchers are like (hockey) goalies, making 40 or 50 saves a game,” says Murphy. “You don’t get that unless you work hard at it.”

Staying with the catcher example, the man behind the mask must have the smarts to know the situation — the score, number of outs, position of runners and order of hitters coming up and what they had done the last time up.

“In baseball, there are more variables than most sports,” says Murphy. “Of course, I’m biased.”

Murphy says fun is an essential additive to this mix.

“Life’s too short not to have fun,” says Murphy. “Whether it’s coaching, teaching or your job,  it can be a real tough thing to do if you dread what you’re doing.”

A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Murphy notes that the 2016 World Series champions were a team that had fun while they were winning.

Murphy and his assistant coaches over the years taught young Vikings the game and then sent them into competition.

“You hope they perform the way you’ve told them, but kids are kids and sometimes it’s an adventure,” says Murphy. “You have to remember, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.”

Biff Geiss was a Murphy assistant the longest. A successful player at DePauw University, he came to VHS to teach languages and helped Murphy impart many baseball lessons.

Murphy expresses gratitude to many baseball assistants who also offered their talents to other sports. Among those are Todd Coffin, Dale Gott,  Zane Cole, Dave Coyle, Rich Spicer, Steve Krutz, Jeff Wood, Gary Gray and John Gutierrez.

Current Valpo head baseball coach Todd Evans was a senior in Murphy’s last season in 1999. The former program leader likes what he sees.

“Todd has brought back things to the sport that are important,” says Murphy. “Things like punctuality, loyalty and accountability. Some of those things aren’t there any more in school or sports.”

Murphy recalls having two at least full teams playing summer games in June and July. That has been replaced by travel baseball when Valparaiso’s high school season ends.

“That’s not right,” says Murphy. “I’m pretty old school. But you have to have pretty deep pockets (for travel ball). Many kids who can’t do that. Some coaches are trophy hounds. I don’t know how much fundamental baseball is being taught and it takes away from the chemistry of the high school team the way it used to be.

“It was nice to see them playing Legion ball (for Valparaiso Post 94), too.”

PATMURPHYVALPO

Pat Murphy is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2018. He was head baseball coach at his alma mater — Valparaiso High School — for 28 seasons and won 483 games.

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.

Boone Grove gives Antone coaching opportunity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone may be young.

But he goes into his first season as a high school baseball head coach having learned a great deal from a pair of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

Antone, who turns 27 in November, is now in charge at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso.

Andrean’s Dave Pishkur was the corner infielder’s coach his first two prep seasons as a player. Chesteron’s Jack Campbell provided his wisdom in Antone’s final two high school campaigns. Antone graduated from CHS in 2009.

“I had a really good experience at both places,” says Antone. “I built real good relationships with coaches, teachers and my friends that I still have today.”

Antone played one season at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., before transferring to Valparaiso University.

Anxious to get his coaching career started, he became an assistant at Valparaiso High School while doing his student teaching in the spring of 2014.

The 2015 season was spent as an assistant for Campbell’s Trojans and 2016 and 2017 for Pishkur’s 59ers. This summer, he was an assistant for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League.

“I’m very, very glad I made the decision I did,” says Antone. “If I didn’t there’s no way I’d be as far along as I am right now.

“I’m at a very good advantage to have played and coached with (Campbell and Pishkur). Dave has learned as he’s gone on. I learned from him to never be satisfied. I try to always improve myself as a coach.”

Antone has done that by accessing Pishkur’s library of baseball books and DVDs and traveling with him to clinics.

“I like talking with other coaches, seeing what they do and picking up anything you can incorporate into my program to make it a little bit better,” says Antone whose Boone Grove staff so far includes Chesterton classmate and teammate Jack Wilson, 2014 Boone Grove graduate Jake Gholsten and Bryan Hill (who was an assistant to Rollie Thill who resigned after 14 seasons, six sectional, two regional and six Porter County Conference round robin and tournament titles with more than 300 wins).

Antone hopes to pick up another assistant or two to lead a program expect to have 30 or more players on varsity and junior varsity squads in the spring of 2018.

“In order to be successful you need to surround yourself with good assistants,” says Antone. “You coach them about the vision for the program and let them know what their responsibilities.”

This fall, Antone is leading Boone Grove seventh and eighth graders in a PCC schedule. He has also gotten a chance to meet some high schoolers and looks forward to working more with them soon.

The Wolves lost to IHSAA Class 2A northern semistate qualifier Hebron in the 2017 Boone Grove Sectional championship game.

Antone looks for his team to “be grinders and play the game one pitch at a time.”

He expects to have a good mix of veterans and newcomers. There are some freshmen who could contribute at the varsity level.

Classes began Monday, Aug. 14 at BG, where Antone is an alternative school teacher. He taught the last two years at Andrean after three years at St. Patrick’s School in Chesterton, where he went from pre-school through eighth grade.

Antone played Little league baseball at Liberty Rec in Chesterton then travel ball with the Duneland Flyers as a junior high schooler and Indiana Breakers while in high school.

PATANTONE

Pat Antone, a graduate of Chesterton High School and Valparaiso University, is the new head baseball coach at Boone Grove High School.

 

Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”

NWINDIANAOILMEN

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

OWENWELLSAMLEGION

Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

SCOTTUPP

Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)