Tag Archives: Coastal Carolina

O’Dette takes a little Saint Joe with him to Saint Leo

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rick O’Dette is enjoying his new baseball home.

But he’ll always have a warm place in his heart for the old one.

#ForeverPumas.

After Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., closed at the end of the 2017-18 school year and 1999 SJC graduate O’Dette’s tenure as Pumas head coach wrapped after 17 seasons, he and his staff found landing spots for about 30 players from the top-20 NCAA Division II program then found a job of his own in Florida — taking a few familiar faces with him.

While there are former SJC players now at all levels of college baseball, there are four contributing this spring with NCAA Division I programs not far from Gil Hodges Field.

Junior right-handed pitcher Quinn Snarksis wound up as starter at the University of Illinois.

Sophomores Noah Powell and Lukas Jaksich are both at Ball State University — Powell (who went to Mount Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind.) as starting shortstop and lead-off hitter and left-hander Jaksich (who went to Andrean High School in Merrillville) as a starting pitcher.

Sophomore left-handed reliever Jarrett Hammel is now wearing the colors of Valparaiso University. Hammel went to South Newton High School.

Junior Joe Kenney went to the University of Indianapolis — one of Saint Joe’s old foes from the Great Lakes Valley Conference — to be a starting second baseman.

“We miss those guys,” says O’Dette of his former players. “They were put into a spot. I stay in contact with a lot of them.”

O’Dette is now head baseball coach at Saint Leo University in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area. There are about 2,600 students on campus with many more connected in various ways around the country.

Playing in the powerhouse NCAA Division II Sunshine State Conference (along with Tampa, Nova Southeastern, Florida Southern, Palm Beach Atlantic, Eckerd, Lynn, Barry, Embry-Riddle and Rollins), the Lions were off to a 36-10 start and still fighting for a regional tournament berth in 2018.

“It’s considered the best Division II conference in the country,” says O’Dette, whose team recently took two-of-three in an SSC series against Florida Southern. (Saint Leo is) literally one of the best places in the country. The school looks like a resort.”

Just since O’Dette got there, there has been $35,000 in upgrade to the baseball facilities.

School has been out for two weeks and the team has been practicing multiple times a day in 85-degree weather.

Matt Kennedy, who served with O’Dette at Saint Joe in two different stints, is his top assistant at Saint Leo.

Former SJC player Morgan DePew is a volunteer assistant coach for the Lions.

Sophomore Amir Wright, a Griffith High School product and former Puma, is Saint Leo’s center fielder and lead-off hitter.

Once part of the SJC mound staff, sophomore right-hander Joey Antonopoulos is one of SLU’s top relievers.

Redshirt freshman infielder Danny Torres, a South Bend St. Joseph graduate, was already at Saint Leo when O’Dette and he rest of the newcomers arrived.

O’Dette hit the ground running when he arrived on campus in late June of 2017, signing 13 new players in the first six weeks or so. Six of Saint Leo’s signings for 2019 are from the Midwest, including Center Grove senior Mikey Wyman.

Among the many standouts for the 2018 Lions is junior Peyton Isaacson. The former Coastal Carolina University player is both a power-hitting catcher and closer for Saint Leo. Swinging from the left side, he has 11 home runs and has also used his right arm to notch 14 saves.

Senior second baseman Zach Scott is another head-turner for the Lions.

Isaacson and Scott are expected to go in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft June 4-6.

Many folks with ties to Saint Joe have gotten a chance to watch Saint Leo.

“Pumas became Lions,” says O’Dette. “Alumni have been great. During the month of March, I bet I saw 25 alumni on spring break.”

O’Dette has been featured on the Top Coach Podcast twice — both at Saint Joe and Saint Leo.

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After 17 seasons as his alma mater — Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Rick O’Dette is now head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida. (Saint Leo University Photo)

 

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Relationships the most memorable thing for Ball State’s Eppers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Eppers can point to some memorable moments during his college diamond days.

The Ball State University senior baseball player is coming off a “career weekend” in which he went 10-of-13 at the plate with his third career home run plus a double, stolen base, sacrifice, four runs scored and three runs batted in.

The Cardinals stopped a nine-game losing skid with a three-game sweep at Western Michigan. BSU outscored the Broncos 46-17. Eppers went 5-for-5 in Game 2 of the series — the first five-hit game of his career.

“We had been pressing a little bit,” says Eppers, speaking for the team as a whole. “We started relaxing and having fun.”

On Tuesday, April 11, Eppers stayed hot with three more hits in an 11-2 win against visiting Valparaiso. In his last four games, he is 13-of-17, raising his average to a team-pacing .311.

Earlier in the 2017 season, Eppers was named Mid-American Conference West Division Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-4 outfielder strung together hits in eight consecutive plate appearances in his junior season of 2016, spanning two games against Dayton and one against Purdue.

The 2013 Elkhart Central High School graduate (he played center field and was the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner as the Steve Stutsman-coached Blue Blazers beat Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the ’13 Class 4A state title) also counts a victory against powerhouse Louisiana State in 2016 as a highlight.

As a sophomore in 2015, Eppers scored three runs against Akron and helped the Cardinals to the MAC tournament championship game.

But as outstanding as those achievements are, it’s the relationships that Eppers has made in his four BSU seasons that he cherishes most.

“I came on to this team not knowing anybody,” says Eppers. “My roommate, Sean Kennedy, had a monster weekend himself (at Western Michigan). He hit a grand slam and another home run and had a whole bunch of hits (Kennedy was 7-of-9 with nine RBI in three games). He and I are best friends. I’m going to be the best man in his wedding.

“The relationships that I’ve built, that’s what’s made college baseball worth it. Through the highs and the lows, the guys you’re around and that sense of brotherhood is heightened to a new level in college.”

Eppers roomed with right-handed pitcher B.J. Butler as a freshman and later shared a place with Kennedy and Alex Call (selected in the third round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox  after earning MAC Player of the Year honors in 2016) before Call moved on.

“(Sean) has been very versatile. He’s played every infield position this year. He’s kind of the anchor of our defense. Anywhere we need him, he’s there. With his bat, too. In the middle of the lineup, he’s been a heavy hitter … It was a good weekend for him and I in our apartment.”

Besides Eppers, Kennedy and Butler, the other BSU seniors are right-hander David Current, third baseman Alex Maloney (son of Ball State head coach Rich Maloney), first baseman Caleb Stayton and left-handers Evan Korson (a transfer from Northern Kentucky) and Kevin Marnon (a transfer from Akron).

Rich Maloney has enjoyed watching Eppers perform for the Cards.

“He’s very athletic,” says Maloney. “He covers a lot of ground in center field. He has really good speed. He competes really, really well.

“With the other guys we’ve been able to surround him with in his class, he’s been a really nice piece of the puzzle.

“He’s been a joy to coach.”

The past three seasons, that recruiting class has aided in an overall MAC title, two West division crowns and a tournament runner-up finish while averaging 34 wins.

“They’ve all gotten a taste of winning and enjoyed it and they certainly want to pass it on,” says Maloney. “They are leaders and they’re all going to end up graduating. It’s all good and Matt is certainly a big part of it.”

How does Eppers prefer to do his leading?

“Day-to-day, I just try to lead by example,” says Eppers, who has played in 188 career games with 147 starts. “I’m not really one of the hoorah guys.

“I don’t speak just to speak. When I have to be a vocal leader, I pick my times. I feel like that’s not only benefitted me here but my whole life. When you can do that it makes your word go a little bit farther.”

Maloney coached Ball State 1996-2002 then at Michigan 2003-12 before returning to BSU for the 2013 season. A staple as he took over a program that had not been winning was “Gotta Believe” rally cry (#GottaBelieve).

“The first thing in building a program is you’ve got to get everybody to believe,” says Maloney, whose 2017 assistants are Scott French, Dustin Glant and Ray Skjold. “They’ve got to believe in the coaches. They’ve got to believe in the vision. They’ve got to believe in the system. They’ve got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to believe in their teammates. If you get that going then you have a chance to be successful.”

Facing the toughest schedule of Maloney’s BSU coaching career (win vs. Maryland, four losses to both Oregon State and Kent State and defeats to defending national champion Coastal Carolina plus setbacks against Louisville and West Virgina), Ball State got off to an 11-9 start in 2017 then hit a slide once the MAC part of the slate began.

“We came close in several or them, but couldn’t get over the top,” says Maloney. “(Against Western Michigan), we were able to break through.

Eppers has bought in to Maloney’s belief system.

“You gotta believe that you can get the job done,” says Eppers. “That’s something he’s instilled in all of us.”

“The whole reason I came to Ball State was the vision that he sold. To his credit, he did it. He promised us a new field, improved schedules and improved skills and we got it.

“No matter who we’re playing, you can see it in his eyes. He truly believes Ball State is going to win … Coach has taught us not to ever take a back seat to anybody.”

Since Eppers’ sophomore year, Ball Diamond has been covered with artificial turf. This is a growing trend in the northern U.S., where the maintenance is lower and teams are able to play more games even in cold and wet weather.

Another major difference been grass and turf is the speed of the game.

“On turf, everything is a lot faster,” says Eppers. “A single may turn into a double; a double may turn into a triple. Especially at our field, it plays very fast … It’s probably given me a few more triples, too, so I appreciate it.”

Of 33 starts for a 15-18 squad, Eppers has been in center field for 29 games and right field for four.

“Center has always been my favorite position, where I feel most comfortable,” says Eppers. “You’re the shortstop of the outfield in a way. You’re supposed to be the best all-around defensive player in the outfield. Something I’ve always taken pride in is tracking down balls and trying to make catches other people can’t make.”

Eppers, who hits from the right side, was in the No. 8 slot in the batting order during his recent hot weekend in Kalamazoo, but has appeared in every hole but Nos. 3 and 4 this spring and has led off eight times.

“Everyday I have to check, but it’s not that big of a deal,” says Eppers. “I know my job is to get on base. I’m not a guy who’s going to hit a lot of home runs. I do have a few extra base hits. That’s where I hit the gaps and I’m able to run.”

While he’s taken hundreds of fly balls in the outfield to improve his defense and bulked up to 202 pounds with work in the weight room, Eppers has also adjusted his approach at the plate. He has become more knowledgeable about situational hitting and what pitches he can connect with the best.

“Early in my career I was very vulnerable to the slider and pitcher-advantage counts,” says Eppers. “Now, I’m a tougher out. When the slider is in the dirt, I’m able to lay off that pitch.

“This year I’ve really worked at hitting pitches in the (strike) zone I know I can barrel up. I’m not chasing as many pitches.”

Eppers, 22, is scheduled to graduate in May with a “high stakes” degree in entrepreneurial management.

“It’s basically a pass-fail major,” says Eppers, who was on the MAC all-academic team in 2016 and carried 3.555 grade-point average in the fall. “For a year, you write a business plan, fine tune it and then Wednesday (April 12) we present it in a room with a panel of judges. If they like what you have to say, they pass you. If they don’t, they fail you. If you fail, you have to opportunity to come back next year and re-try or take a couple some classes and (graduate with a different major).

“It puts some stress on you.”

Eppers and his business partner will present a plan on a not-for-profit gym and counseling service for veterans, military members and first responders in the Indianapolis area.

While he is exploring his post-graduation options, Eppers says he is leaning toward staying on the diamond.

“I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can,” says Eppers. “When I’m not allowed to play anymore I’ll have to re-evaluate my professional life.

“For right now I’m just focused on playing baseball and having fun. I’m trying to play every game like it’s my last.”

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Matt Eppers contributes speed to the Ball State University baseball team. The Elkhart Central High School graduate is in his senior season. (Ball State Photo)

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Matt Eppers has played in 188 baseball games as a Ball State Cardinal through Tuesday, April 11. (Ball State Photo)

Getting players ready for next level what it’s all about for Delagarza, Summit City Sluggers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Mark Delagarza sees it, there are two paths for travel baseball organizations.

Some like the game but are not that intense about it. To Delagarza, that describes 80 percent of Indiana teams.

The rest are serious about competition and learning.

“I’m in that 20 percent,” says Delagarza, who founded the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. “We try to do things right and develop players.”

Among the many alumni to play in college or beyond are major leaguers Kevin Kiermaier and Jarrod Parker.

Delagarza, who runs the Sluggers with Greg VanMeter and Steve Devine, says there are three reasons that players are in summer baseball — they want to get to the next level; they wish to get better; or they play because their parents say they must get a job if they don’t.

“I can deal with two out of the three,” says Delagarza.

At 57, Delagarza has been involved with baseball as a player or coach since age 10. He moved from Janesville, Wis., to Fort Wayne to follow his career at General Motors. He was with GM for 33 years.

Besides the Sluggers, he has been a high school head coach at Southern Wells and an assistant at Norwell (where sons Nick and Andy played) and Columbia City as well as an assistant at Manchester University. He has also led the Twins Scout teams in fall baseball and has served as an associate scout for the Minnesota Twins (he still counts supervisor Bill Milos as a good friend in the game) and New York Mets.

The Sluggers started with one team and moved from 12U to 18U as Andy Delagarza and his teammates got older. When Andy went on to college baseball (at Coastal Carolina), Mark was approached about keeping it going and Summit City hit the re-set button at 15U.

Eventually, younger squads were added to a growing group and the emphasis continued to be getting players ready for college ball.

“Five or six years ago, I realized that kids stay committed to the same (travel ball) program,” says Delagarza. “If you don’t get them when they’re young, you might not get them at all.”

Today, the Sluggers field seven squads (12U, 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and College). Younger teams are just beginning their season of 45 to 60 games with older squads joining in for about 40 contests as the high school and college seasons are concluding.

Why so many games?

“It’s a necessary thing,” says Delagarza. “Kids don’t know how to play unless they play. They need to play to learn the game. You don’t hear people say you’re doing too many math or spelling problems.

“In Indiana, we can’t play too much.”

With games at Huntington University, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan, Manchester and Saint Francis, college squads play in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League (other squads for 2017 are to be the Kekiongas, Panthers and Flippin’ Frogs). The league offers no housing and is made up mostly of area athletes. Cost is $500 per player.

Fees can be defrayed for other players with optional monthly fundraisers.

Summit City winds up the season in late July and holds tryouts for the next season in August at Homier Park in Huntington (site of the Sluggers’ Standing Up To Cancer Tournament for ages U9 to U14 June 9-11).

“If we wait until September or October, other organizations take the players,” says Delagarza. “We’ll play games every weekend in September.”

For older teams, many of those games are against collegiate squads.

“It challenges them and gives them the chance to see how good college players are,” says Delagarza. “We’re trying to educate them. But we spend most of time educating parents. I tell those going on spring break to get off the beach and go see a college baseball game (to see what it’s all about).”

During the fall and winter, the Sluggers train at a facility in Huntington.

Delagarza coaches the 15U team. Other current Summit City head coaches are Mark Fisher (12U), Brent Alwine (13U), Matt Stidam (14U), Lance Hershberger (16U), Todd Armstrong (17U) and Lea Selvey (College).

Finding the ones Delagarza wants is not always easy. He has found that many high school coaches are tired at the end of their seasons and don’t wish to coach in the summer and fall.

“It’s trying,” says Delagarza. “I don’t like dads coaching. I like skilled coaches with knowledge.”

If Delagarza had his way, summer baseball needs more direction. One place to start is to have divisions so that top level teams would not be grouped with lower ones at tournaments.

“We’re under the same umbrella and it’s all watered down,” says Delagarza. “These dad teams should be in house ball. I don’t mean to sound arrogant.

“We beat someone 22-1 and it does no one any good. That doesn’t help develop a player. The only way to fix it is to have major tournament directors filter the teams they bring in.”

Delagarza would like to see more league play where there is time for pregame and postgame routines.

He wishes Indiana would return to more games where younger teams don’t play on high school/college-sized fields before the players are ready, which to him means 15U. That usually means the mound is at 54 feet from the plate and the bases 80 feet apart (as opposed to 60 feet, 6 inches and 90 feet).

Since pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes at the longer distance, games tend to be very slow.

Delagarza notes that son Andy did not throw a breaking ball until his junior year at Norwell and advises young pitchers to do the same, getting hitters out with location and by changing speeds.

“Fill the strike zone with fastballs on both sides of the plate and see what happens,” says Delagarza.

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Mark Delagarza (shown when coaching for Manchester University) started the Summit City Sluggers in 1996. The Fort Wayne-based organization plans to field seven teams in 2017.

Teenagers big part of excitement for 2017 Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana has a number of talented teenagers on the diamond.

Not all of those are wearing high school uniforms.

Some are professionals.

As the the Fort Wayne TinCaps (affiliate of the San Diego Padres) get ready to being the 2017 Class-A Midwest League season, they sport a roster with six teenagers and four 20-year olds.

“There’s been a lot of hype and talk about this group,” says Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras, who returns for a second season as skipper at Parkview Field. “I want to see what it looks like under the bright lights.

“It’s going to be fun to watch them.”

Fernando Tatis Jr. will be the TinCaps’ 18-year-old shortstop when the season opens Thursday, April 6 at Bowling Green (the home opener is at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday, April 8).

“He’s a very dynamic young player,” says Contreras of the 6-foot-3 power-hitting athlete from the Dominican Republic. “He’s got some of the best pop I haven’t  seen in awhile.”

Contreras expects Tatis to keep things loose while also bringing some of his unique experiences to the team.

“I’m here to have fun and do what I do,” says the son of major leaguer Fernando Tatis Sr. “It’s fun (being around other young players). We have the same mentality.”

The young Tatis grew up around big league clubhouses.

“He knows what it’s like to be a professional in this game,” says Contreras. “He’s going to thrive in this type of atmosphere.”

Contreras (age 33) and his coaching staff will be looked upon to develop the young talent for the Padres.

“There’s a a lot of pressure put not the minor league side,” says Contreras. “They’ve invested a lot of money (in player development).”

With many players who have yet to experience the grind of a 140-game season, the manager knows he will have to manage the inevitable bad days.

“That’s minor league baseball,” says Contreras. “That’s the experience they have to go through. When they move up and get the major leagues, they’re going to fail as well so you want to address it but not dwell on it.

“A lot of these guys are going to go through some slumps for the first time. It’s my job and the staff’s job to keep them focused.”

Besides Tatis, Contreras expects his regulars to include third baseman Hudson Potts (18), second baseman Eguy Rosario (17) with G.K. Young (22) and Brad Zuinca (21) sharing time at first base and Reinaldo Ilarraza, (18) playing various infield positions.

“We should have a very good team, from what I saw in spring training,” says Young. “These young guys don’t play like young guys. They can swing just like grown men.”

Young played with NCAA Division I national champion Coastal Carolina in 2016.

“Going through the College World Series, I understand what it takes to win at a championship level,” says Young. “I can honestly say I was not ready in high school to come and do this, but some things I went through mentally (in college) strengthened me to go through this game.”

Fort Wayne’s outfield includes Jack Suwinski (18) in left, Buddy Reed (21) in center and Jorge Ona (20) in right.

Marcus Greene Jr. (22) and Webster Rivas (26) will take turns at catcher.

A six-man starting pitching rotation includes (in order): right-hander Jesse Scholtens (22), left-hander Logan Allen (19), right-hander Austin Smith (20), left-hander Jerry Keel (23), right-hander Hansel Rodriguez (20) and left-hander Will Headean (23).

Burt Hooton is back for his fifth season as Fort Wayne’s pitching coach.

The 67-year-old is teaching his young arms to “keep things simple and keep progressing.”

“I tell them not to bite off more than they can handle,” says Hooton, who was a big leaguer for 15 seasons.  “You want to master your pitches and take the time to do it.

“You learn from your experiences — both good and bad.”

Fort Wayne’s bullpen includes returnees like right-hander David Bednar (22) and Lou Distasio (23) as well as right-hander Mark Zimmerman (23) and Ben Sheckler (21).

“There are no roles defined,” says Hooton. “They’re in the bullpen and, a lot of times, we’re going to use them when it’s their turn to pitch. We’ll use two or three guys to close out games. We’ll use two or three guys as long (relievers).”

Doug Banks (32) is the TinCaps hitting coach.

The former scout is telling his young players to focus on the positives.

“The biggest thing with these guys is that they trust themselves and they stick to their approach — whatever it is that night — and they believe in themselves,” says Banks. “That’s a big one.

“I’m exciting about this season. I hope they live up to the potential they have.”

As a young coach in the Texas Rangers organization, Banks learned from veteran baseball minds Ron Washington, Clint Hurdle and Mike Maddux and watched veteran Michael Young and Josh Hamilton.

“That was a big opportunity for me,” says Banks.

And opportunity is what’s in store for these young Fort Wayne TinCaps.

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