Dalton Back was a coach pitch player when he chose his favorite position on the baseball field — catcher. “The thing that I love about it most now that older is that it’s like a game within a game — calling pitches and locations, keeping track of baserunners and whatnot,” says Back, 20 and the veteran of two college seasons. “What kept me in it when I was little was just being involved in every pitch. It’s the most active position on the field. That’s what I like most about it.” Born and raised in Columbus, Ind., to Dwayne and Jennifer Back, Dalton played in was in now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County and was later part of two district championship and state tournament teams. When it came time to play travel ball, Back went with the Blazers then the Evoshield Canes. “They changed the way I saw baseball and how I played it,” says Back of Canes coaches Jay Hundley and Phillip Webb. “They turned me into the man and player I was back then and who I am now. “They really grew the game for me. I appreciate that a lot.” Back is a 2020 graduate of Columbus East High School. He earned three letters for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz. “He’s very open-minded,” says Back of Gratz. “He did a lot of experimental stuff. He was very open and willing to learn. He didn’t see himself as a know-it-all in baseball.” Columbus East went 25-5 and lost 3-2 to Hamilton Southeastern in the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship. Back, who batted No. 2 in the order and contributed a triple and two walks in that game, is convinced that Gratz’s inclination of listening to his players was a major contributing factor to the Olympians’ run. “We would just brainstorm different ideas about what we could do better in certain areas like productivity in practice or how to hold each other accountable,” says Back, who was an all-stater in 2019 and all-Hoosier Hills Conference in 2018 and 2019 and missed his senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “(Gratz) allowed the players to lead which is very nice.” At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Back played 76 games (65 as a starter) and hit .224 with seven home runs, 16 doubles, 37 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. He homered four times and enjoyed a pair of three-RBI games in 2022. Back, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, is now in the Transfer Portal with two years of eligibility. His next diamond destination is still to be determined. “I’m trying to stay relaxed and calm about it,” says Back of making a decision of where to play and study next. He has participated in each of the College Summer League at Grand Park’s three seasons — Local Legends in 2020, Turf Monsters in 2021 and Tropics in 2022. The league based in Westfield, Ind., is attractive to Back because the schedule is not too rigorous and there are helpful amenities. “There are not so many games a week where you’re killing your body,” says Back. “I have access to Pro X (Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus) to hit and lift all the time. “Everything is close around here. It’s easy to manage your time.” A righty swinger, Back describes his offensive approach. “The main thing that helps me is to just keep reminding myself to swing 80 percent all the time,” says Back. “A lot of times I swing way too hard and I’m trying to do too much with the baseball. “If I have a slow heart beat, go 80 percent and I’m nice and smooth with my swing, a lot of times I can let the bat do the work. Most of the time that’s how I have success at the plate.” As a college student, Back has studied Kinesiology (the science of human movement) and can see himself as a physical therapist after his playing career. “I’ve always been attracted to human physiology,” says Back. “I got real big into the weight room in high school. I loved it. I was fascinated with how everything works and how the body recovers. With physical therapy I’d be able to stay around athletics and help other athletes.” Dalton has an older brother — Joey Back (24).
Friday night starter Austin Peterson has been sitting batters down at a consistent pace so far in 2022. The 6-foot-6 senior right-handed pitcher has made four starts for the University of Connecticut and was 2-0 with 44 strikeouts and five walks in 24 2/3 innings heading into the Week of March 14-20. A 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, Peterson played at Purdue and Wabash Valley College before winding up at UConn. Peterson is more than one of 120 players from Indiana high schools (or hometowns) on NCAA Division I rosters outside the state. Many are key contributors. Freshman right-hander Casey Sorg (Floyd Central) sported a 1.59 ERA in five mound appearances for Bellarmine, a squad with nine Indiana products on a team led by Jeffersonville alum Larry Owens. Sophomore outfielder Carson Husmann (South Central of Union Mills) was hitting .318 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in for Bradley. Senior outfielder Damon Lux (Shelbyville) had driven in 12 runs for Duke. Redshirt junior right-hander Blake Malatestnic (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter) was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings for Eastern Illinois. Sophomore second baseman Tim Borden II (Providence) was hitting .316 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Georgia Tech. Freshman outfielder Jared Comia (Hanover Central) was hitting .283 with two homers and eight RBIs for Illinois. Redshirt senior catcher/first baseman Nolan Metcalf (Penn) was hitting .306 with nine RBIs for Kansas. Senior right-hander Jack Myers (Indianapolis Cathedral) had 16 strikeouts in 19 innings for Kennesaw State. Sophomore left-hander Michael Dunkelberger (South Bend Saint Joseph) was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA for Lipscomb. Senior right-hander Jared Poland (Indianapolis Cathedral) was 1-1 with 1.38 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings for Louisville. Redshirt sophomore J.J. Woolwine (Fishers) was hitting .439 with one homer and eight RBIs and freshman right-hander Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic) was 1-0 with 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in innings for Miami (Ohio). Senior shortstop Riley Bertram (ZIonsville Community) was hitting .293 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Michigan. Sophomore outfielder Roman Kuntz (New Prairie) was hitting .370 with three homers and 10 RBIs for Morehead State. Freshman right-hander Landon Kruer (Providence) was 1-0 with 1.59 ERA for Navy. Redshirt junior outfielder Trevyn Moss (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran) was hitting .274 with one homer, one triple and 14 RBIs for Northern Kentucky. Redshirt junior shortstop Xavier Haendiges (Salem) was hitting .353 for Ohio. Junior right-hander Bayden Root (Kokomo) was 1.0 with a 2.61 ERA in six appearances for Oklahoma State. Senior right-hander Cameron Pferrer (Carmel) was 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings for Saint Louis. Freshman Nick Mitchell (Carmel) was hitting .357 with eight RBIs for Western Illinois. Junior infielder/outfielder Matthew Meyer (Westfield) was hitting .260 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Western Kentucky. Senior outfielder Ryan Missal (Lowell) was hitting .257 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Western Michigan. Sophomore first baseman Julian Greenwell (Columbus East) was hitting .310 with one homer and nine RBIs. There’s several more coaches with Indiana prep roots — head coach Billy Gernon (New Albany) and associate head coach Adam Piotrowicz (John Glenn) at Western Michigan, head coach Eric Wedge (Fort Wayne Northrop) at Wichita State and assistants Jared Broughton (Indianapolis Lutheran) at Clemson, Nick McIntyre (McCutcheon) at Toledo, Justin Parker (Fort Wayne Wayne) at South Carolina, Matt Reida (Western) at Alabama and Bobby Rinard (Mishwawaka Marian) at Dixie State.
INDIANA D-I PLAYERS OUTSIDE STATE 2022 Alabama So. IF Bryce Eblin (Center Grove) Volunteer Assistant Coach Matt Reida (Western)
Columbus East (20-7) plays Castle at 10 a.m. CST, followed by Franklin Central vs. Jeffersonville. The regional final is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.
Gratz, who was a junior varsity and freshman coach for the Olympians for five years before taking over the program, is a 2001 Manchester High School graduate.
At Manchester, he gained an affinity for “playing the game the right way” from Squires head coach Jack Rupley.
“He believed in playing hard and taking care of the little things,” says Gratz. “We’ve had great pitching all year long and very good defense. We’re not necessarily the fastest team, but we run the bases well.
“We had a dry spell early in the season, but we’re starting to hit the ball really well.”
Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, played his college baseball at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.
The Olympians’ top pitchers are junior left-hander Julian Greenwell, sophomore right-hander Cole Gilley, and senior right-handers Alec Burnett and Drew Hasson. When not pitching, Greenwell plays in right field, Gilley at third base, Burnett in left field and Hasson at first base.
The leading hitters are sophomore catcher Dalton Back, Gilley, Greenwell, Hasson and junior shortstop/lead-off man Jonah Wichman.
Greenwell and Gilley have committed to Indiana University, Hasson to Northern Illinois University and Wichman to Murray State University.
The Class of 2017 sent Jon Crawford to the University of Indianapolis, Jonathan Foster to Taylor University and Luke Hostetler to Jackson College in Jackson County, Mich.
Gratz, who teaches math at Columbus East, is assisted by John Major, Andrew Golinvaux (pitching coach), Jerry Schoen and Chris Fox at the varsity level with Levi Pollert and Nathen Swafford guiding the junior varsity.
Columbus East won its 18th all-time sectional this spring and first since 1999.
“We don’t really talk about that here,” says Gratz. “We’re concerned with this team, this year.”
For the record the other sectional titles came in 1973, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997.
The Olympians will have a chance at the program’s 10th regional title Saturday, having won at that stage in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1993 with semistate crowns earned in 1979, 1987 and 1989.
Columbus East has also won three semistates and appeared in the State Finals, bowing in the semifinals all three times (1979, 1987 and 1989).
Columbus East plays its games on-campus. Gratz says he is hopeful that the facility will get a new scoreboard this summer.
Jon and Kathleen Gratz have two children — daughter Morgan (5) and son Michael (2).
Columbus East High School head baseball coach Jon Gratz celebrates a 2018 sectional title with his family. Above is the seventh-year Olympians leader with daughter Morgan and son Michael. Below, Jon and wife Kathleen and kids mug with the trophy.