Tag Archives: Eagles

Sidearmer Bates bound for Grambling State

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Ethan Bates grew up in East Central Indiana, he played some outfield and stood on the mound.
But it wasn’t until he was leaving Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2020 and getting ready for college baseball that Bates focused on a different way of pitching.
The left-hander turned himself into a sidearmer/submariner and it’s helped him through two seasons at Jimmy Brenneman coached-Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill., and earned him a spot with NCAA Division I Grambling (La.) State University in the fall.
It was while playing in a 2019 fall league in Pendleton, Ind., organized by Mike Shirley that Bates began dropping down with his delivery. He liked the results and kept at it.
“I’ve been learning the past two years and trying to get better,” says Bates, who developed as a Frontier CC Bobcat. In 23 games (all in relief), he went 2-0 with 24 strikeouts and 22 walks in 24 innings.
“The whole JUCO experience made a big impact on me as a player and a human,” says Bates, 20. “I got to grind in the middle of nowhere. You have to work really hard to get what you get in JUCO.
“I embrace what it means to be a JUCO Bandit.”
Twitter highlights posted of Bates posted by Frontier CC. That got the attention of Grambling State and he was contacted by Direct Message. He went for a visit and later signed with the Tigers in the fall of 2021.
Grambling State — where Davin Pierre is the head coach — in located in the north central part of the state about 65 miles from Shreveport.
“There’s lots to do,” says Bates. “I wanted wanted to play Down South where it’s warm.”
The past two summers, Bates has pitched in the midday heat for the Palm Beach Xtreme of the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League (there was also two games for Trenton, N.J., Thunder of the 2021 MLB Draft League). His Florida connection was Miami resident and Frontier CC outfielder Nick Pompile.
In his first 17 appearances for the Xtreme in 2022, he is 3-0 with seven saves, an 0.40 earned run average, 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 22 1/3 innings.
Besides a sinking fastball, Bates uses a sweeping slider that moves in on a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty. His change-up drops.
Born in Anderson, Ind., Bates went to middle school in the Pendleton Heights district then transferred to Frankton for high school, where he also play basketball for four years and football for one.
He played recreation ball at Riverfield in Chesterfield, Ind. His first travel ball team was the Indiana Renegades.
Bates spent several summers with the Indiana Bulls, including with head coach Sean Laird at 17U. One of his Bulls teammates was 2020 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School alum Nolan Bowser.
He has also trained with Vanderbilt University commit Max Clark (Franklin Community Class of 2023) and Indiana University recruit Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian Class of 2023).
A broken shoulder kept Bates from playing baseball as a Frankton freshman. He was with the varsity most of his sophomore year and all of his year season. The COVID-19 pandemic took away his senior slate.
Brad Douglas was and still is the head coach of the Frankton Eagles.
“He’s hard-nosed and a great competitor (just like Laird),” says Bates. “I love playing for coaches who are great competitors and have my back.”
With an associate degree in Sciences & Arts earned at Frontier CC, Bates plans to major in Sports Management at Grambling State.
Ethan, who turns 21 in November, is the son of Ryan Bates (Cami) and Karen Siek (Dan). His siblings are Lauryn Bates, Katie Shadoan and Seth Siek. Katie is the oldest, followed by Ethan, Lauryn and Seth.

Ethan Bates (Cheyenne Bruce Photography)
Ethan Bates (Cheyenne Bruce Photography)
Ethan Bates (Frontier Community College Photo)

Grand Valley State gold glover Nelson a student first, but he still loves being an athlete

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022.
After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored.
The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests.
A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems.
“I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.”
He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate.
“I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.”
Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023.
His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter.
“You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.”
Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws.
“Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year.
“In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.”
As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed.
“It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole.
“Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.”
Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022.
“We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.”
Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach.
“He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner.
“He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.”
Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League.
He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge.
He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior.
Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017.
“(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit.
“It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.”
Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
“I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170.
“I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard.
“Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays)
“It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.”
Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021.
In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college.
Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.

Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Kellogg Community College Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)

Highland graduate Castillo relishes routine, last days of Benedictine U. baseball

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Damen Castillo likes to maintain a routine.
“I am very superstitious, especially when it comes to baseball,” says Castillo, a 2018 graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, where he played for John Bogner, and is in his final season at Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) in 2022. “I have a Red Bull before every game — no matter what.
“I’ll play catch in the same spot. I’ll go through the same routine for hitting.”
Castillo has also been known to keep his helmet or equipment bag in the same location.
Why?
“I have no idea,” says Castillo, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who plays first base and bats clean-up for the Benedictine Eagles.
Going into action Tuesday, April 26 against North Central College, the righty-swinger is hitting .381 (40-of-105) with seven home runs, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 25 runs scored for a team that is 21-6 overall and 15-1 atop the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference standings (Benedictine was 29-13 and 15-5 in 2021).
Because of COVID-19, Castillo has another year of eligibility remaining, but is planning to finish his degree in Management and Organizational Behavior with a concentration in Operations Management.
Castillo, who spent the summer of 2021 with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp, says he will entertain professional baseball opportunities if they come his way. Otherwise, he intends to enter the work force, going into construction like members of his family.
“I want to start out as a worker so I can learn things,” says Castillo. “I don’t want to manage something so young like that.”
He has thoroughly enjoyed his college experience.
“The relationships you build with people are for the rest of my life,” says Castillo. “The baseball part of it has been fun.”
As an NCAA Division III program, Benedictine conducted fall workouts and then had “captain’s practice” — where coaches were not allowed instruct — in the winter.
Adam Smith is the Eagles head coach.
“We’ve become really close,” says Castillo. “He’s really good with everybody. He’s easy to talk to as a coach.
“He’ll get on you when you do something wrong but teach you so you can do it right the next time.”
Benedictine practices tend to top out at two hours and there is also weightlifting and extra hitting during a typical week.
“Coach Smith likes to give us free time,” says Castillo. “You’ve got to get away from it a little bit.”
Castillo, who lives in an on-campus apartment with three teammates, likes to relax with video games like Call of Duty and MLB The Show.

Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)

Nunley now head coach at Guerin Catholic

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Nunley returns to a high school head coaching post with his hiring last summer at Guerin Catholic in Noblesville, Ind.
“I got a call from (Eagles director of athletics Ryan Davis),” says Nunley. “We went to breakfast. Right from the beginning I could tell he was a baseball guy.
“We want to build a championship culture and do it the right way.”
Guerin Catholic (enrollment around 720) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Covenant Christian, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).
“We’re a really good conference,” says Nunley. “Every team has a superstar on their mound or in their lineup.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the mix of it.”
In 2022, CCC teams will play Tuesday-Wednesday home-and-home series.
In 2021, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Guerin Catholic is seeking its first sectional title.
Nunley, who previously was head coach from 2016-20 at Monroe Central Junior-Senior High School in Parker City, Ind., was an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Matt Campbell this past season at Lapel (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School.
He coached in the Indiana Bulls travel organization the past two summers and in fall ball. While in Randolph County, Nunley and best friend and former Ball State University teammate Matt Deckman (who is now Monroe Central head coach) ran the traveling Indiana Bears.
Bryce Deckman, Matt’s son, is a freshman on the Huntington (Ind.) University baseball team.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period went from Aug. 30-Oct. 16 and Nunley had 12 to 20 athletes participating two times a week while many other players were unavailable because of fall sports.
“It’s always good to have multi-sport athletes,” says Nunley. “They’re competing in other avenues working with other coaches. It’s a team of coaches – not just one guy.
“(Multi-sporters) are in the weight room or another sport and doing something with their bodies and not just sitting,” said Nunley.
The next limited contact period begins Dec. 6 and the ramping up of pitching arms will begin in earnest.
Matt Hession is dedicated to the job of tending the Eagles’ home diamond.
“Matt has done a fantastic job taking care of the field,” says Nunley.
The on-campus facility was recently laser-graded through the efforts of Hession and Blake Marschand of Marschand’s Athletic Field Services.
Nunley’s Guerin Catholic 2021-22 coaching staff includes John Becker, Cade Luker, John Magers, Lewis Diltz and volunteers Kolbe Smith and Justin Bloxom. Becker played and coached at Anderson (Ind.) University and also coached for the Indiana Bulls. Luker (who will lead the junior varsity team) and Magers (who will help with pitchers and float between varsity and JV squads) are Lapel graduates who played at Manchester University. Diltz was on the staff in 2021 and will help with the JV as weill Guerin Catholic alum Smith. Bloxom played at Kansas State University and played and scouted in the Washington Nationals organization.

Nunley, a Winchester Community High School graduate, is a territory owner and sales representative for Adrenaline Fundraising, a company which also employs Deckman and Brebeuf Jesuit head coach Jeff Scott.
Keith and wife Kate, an Exceptional Learners teacher at Fishers (Ind.) High School, have two baseball-playing sons – Guerin Catholic freshman A.J. and middle schooler Koby.

The Nunleys (from left): Koby, A.J., Keith and Kate.

Craig provides punch for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tanner Craig has provided a productive bat for the University of Evansville baseball team since the 2018 season.
The righty swinger sports a batting average of .294 (128-of-435) with 18 home runs, 28 doubles, 76 runs batted in, 60 runs scored and an .859 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus 487 slugging average) in 116 games.
In 2021, the 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman played in 54 contests (all starts) and hit .299 (60-of-201) with 12 homers, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs, 31 runs and a .929 OPS (.382/.547).
Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season — one in which he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after slugging four homers in a season-openojvng series at Tennessee Tech — Craig is back for a fifth season with the Purple Aces in 2022.
What title best fits Craig as an offensive player?
“I would say I’m a power hitter,” says Craig, 22. “It’s role I’ve played at Evansville and other teams I’ve been on.”
Aces head coach Wes Carroll tabbed Craig as his regular No. 3 hole hitter in 2021.
“I just try to hit the ball hard every time,” says Craig. “I look for a pitch in the part of the (strike) zone I know I can hit it well and swing hard.”
While Craig has seen some exit velocity data, it’s not how he and other UE players often gauge their swings.
“With turf we can get on the field anytime we want,” says Craig of German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium. “Ball flight — that tells you a lot about your swing.
“We played one game on (home) turf in the COVID year (then 34 in 2021). We’re very lucky to have it. That’s for sure.”
Craig appreciates Carroll for the way he tailors his approach to each player.
“He really cares for all of us as individuals,” says Craig. “He takes the time to learn how to coach us individually. He knows the best way to get to people.”
Carroll can be firmer with Craig because he knows he can hand it. Another player may need to be cajoled.”
Fall practice began Aug. 30, about a week after the first day of class. Individual work is about to wrap up. That will be followed by team practices and scrimmages. While there has been nothing formal, players have been keeping track of which color teams wins most.
The Aces are also slated to play exhibition games Oct, 9 against Western Kentucky University and Oct. 23 against Wabash Valley College — both at Evansville.
Last spring, Craig earned an Accounting degree and is now working toward a Masters of Leadership. He expects to finish the 18-month course in December 2022.
This summer, Craig played for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 26 games, he hit .386 (34-of-88) with 10 homers, seven doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs for a team managed by Michael Keeran. The team went a league-best 41-18 during the regular season and lost to the Cape Catfish in the best-of-three championship series.
“It was a great experience,” says Craig. “It’s a beautiful stadium (the new-look Loeb Stadium).
“It was really fun, my time up there.”
Craig was born in Florence, Ky., and grew up in Scottsburg, Ind., where he played Coach Pitch at what is now Scott County Youth League. He played travel ball for the Smithville (Ind.) Gators, Mark Peters-coached Ironmen (13U to 17U) and Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks (18U).
He began attending schools in Austin, Ind., in sixth grade and graduate from Austin High School in 2017. Craig was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher for Eagles coach Matt Bayes.
“He’s just a good coach,” says Craig of Bayes. “He’s really good at teaching a lot of aspects of the game.”
One of Craig’s teammates was right-handed pitcher Drew Buhr (Austin Class of 2019), who went to Saint Louis University then transferred to Bellarmine University.
Tanner, who turns 23 in December, is the youngest of Samtec production supervisor Todd and Morgan Foods senior buyer Jennifer Craig.
“They’ve been a huge support for me since I’ve started,” says Tanner of his parents. “They’ve always found ways to get me whatever I need. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad has missed in my college career.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the stands.”
Morgan Dillard, Tanner’s older sister lives in Indianapolis and is in management with CVS Health. She is married with a daughter.
Quintin Craig, Tanner’s older brother, is a project manager of Crown Castle and lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter.
Peyton Craig, Tanner’s younger brother, is a Scottsburg freshman involved in Future Farmers of America.

Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)

After four seasons at Spalding U., righty Parisi transfers to Indiana State

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tell Jack Parisi he can’t do something and that’s just the motivation he needs.
“My whole baseball career — starting in high school, people said I’m never going to play college baseball and I’m never going to throw 90 mph,” says Parisi, a right-handed pitcher who four seasons at NCAA Division III Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. (2018-21), and is now at NCAA Division I Indiana State University for a graduate transfer year in 2022. “I bundled it all up, threw it aside and went to prove all these people wrong.
“Once somebody tells me a goal of mine can’t be achieved I know they’re wrong and I go to work to make it possible.”
Parisi, a 2017 graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., made 41 appearances (38 starts) for Spalding, going 21-8 with four complete games and a 2.97 earned run average. He produced 269 strikeouts and 107 walks in 218 innings while holding opponents to a .215 batting average.
In 2021, the 22-year-old righty made 12 starts for Eagles head coach Matt Downs and pitching coach Tayler Sheriff and was 8-3 with two complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He racked up 96 K’s and 29 walks in 75 2/3 innings and foes hit .200.
“He is definitely baseball-driven and has a positive mindset,” says Parisi of Downs. “He’s a great friend who I can have trust in.”
“One of my best best qualities as an athlete is I’m goal-driven and willing to put in the work to get better,” says Parisi. “I have a strong mindset — on and off the field. I’m very in-tune with everything happening around me.
“I’m a pretty focused athlete.”
Parisi, a 6-foot, 210-pounder, decided to take his extra year of eligibility granted because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season, began getting calls and texts just minutes after entering the transfer portal.
“I let it all come to me,” says Parisi. “Indiana State was one of the first teams to reach out to me.
“They were very interested in me. This is a chance to play for a great coaching staff and great team. I want to prove that I can pitch against the best out there and get my (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) stock up and keep my name out there.”
ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs indicated that he wanted Parisi to make a visit to the Terre Haute school’s campus as soon as possible. As a Sycamore, he gets to work with a staff of Hannahs, associate head coach Brian Smiley, assistant Brad Vanderglas and volunteer Justin Hancock while continuing to develop as a pitcher.
Parisi moved to Terre Haute last week — about two weeks before the start of fall classes — to familiar himself with the ISU weight room and athletic trainers.
He earned a Business Administration degree with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Communication at Spalding and plans to pursue a masters in Sport Management at Indiana State.
Throwing from a low to middle three-quarter overhand arm slot, Parisi throws a four-seam cutter, sinker, change-up and two kinds of sliders.
“My junior year of high school someone noticed that the ball was cutting out of my hand,” says Parisi. “I began calling my fastball a cutter.”
His fastest pitch is the sinker, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph and sits at 90 to 93.
He uses a “circle” change. His hard slider has a sharp bite at the end a tops out around 85 mpg. His soft slider is more of a “gyro” ball that moves across the plate like a frisbee and maxes out near 79 mph.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Jack played from 4 until 12 at Don Ayres Little League then had travel ball stints with the Mark DeLaGarza-led Summit City Sluggers, AWP and the Javier DeJesus-coached Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
At Homestead, Parisi played for two Spartans head coaches — Steve Sotir as a freshman and Nick Byall the last three seasons.
“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Parisi. “(Byall’s) a great guy and a great coach. He’s there for his players. He’s one of those teachers you can reach out to.
“He’s looking out for your best interests.”
During his college summers, Parisi has been with the Manatees of the Port Lucie-based Central Florida Collegiate League in 2018, Casey Harms-coached Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League in 2019 and trained with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., in 2020 and 2021.
He credits his time at PRP last summer with developing his sinker and hard slider.
Casa Restaurants director of operations Tom Parisi and wife Kathy Parisi have two sons — J.T. (28) and Jack. J.T. Parisi played baseball at Homestead then graduated from Indiana University and law school at Vandberbilt University. He is now a lawyer in Chicago.

Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Cass enjoying success with South Bend John Adams Eagles

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., is enjoying quite a baseball season so far in 2021.

Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Mike Cass, the Eagles go into a Thursday, May 20 contest at Penn at 15-3 overall and 6-3 in Northern Indiana Conference games.

“It’s the best season we’ve had in years,” says Cass, who has witnessed steady pitching and defense and has shuffled his lineup to produce some offense. Of the three losses, two came down to the seventh inning.

“We’ve gotten lucky,” says Eagles pitching coach Taylor Neville. “We’ve got pretty good depth at the pitching spot. 

“We always try to develop (the young arms) and give them time at the JV level or in a intrasquad game or a doubleheader where we’re trying to get guys playing time. We see how they perform and what we can fix. We come up with a plan for them. 

“We’ve really had a lot of guys develop. It know it just doesn’t happen here but in summer ball.”

Neville cites Adams senior Bryce Martens as someone who has gotten better as his prep career has progressed.

“In his freshman came up with us (to varsity),” says Neville. “His first game pitching was against Jimtown and he was really struggling with the curve ball. We worked on that and got a very nice curve ball out of it.

“He’s just continued to develop.”

Neville is a graduate of Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln High School.

C.J. Schwartz, another Adams assistant, graduate from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School and played baseball at Grace College in Winona, Lake, Ind.

What does Cass stress with his Adams players?

“Leadership, sportsmanship and fundamentals,” says Cass. “We want to do the little things in baseball like bunt coverage and being where you’re supposed to be (at your position) and those sorts of things.”

Prior to taking over the Adams program, Cass was an assistant to former South Bend St. Joseph head coach John Gumpf and before that an assistant to Scott Sherry at John Adams. 

He credits Gumpf for much about what he knows about coaching the game.

Cass coached at South Bend East Side Little League before his first stint at Adams.

Cass came to Indiana from Pennsbury Township, Pa. — west of Philadelphia where he rooted for the Philadelphia Phillies and his favorite player, Mike Schmidt.

Further educated at Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., and Indiana University South Bend, Cass has been a bookkeeper in the South Bend Community School Corporation for the past 20 years — mostly at John Adams.

Adams (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the NIC (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington).

“We’ve got some good coaches in this conference,” says Cass. “You can tell they’re good coaches because they’re always there building a program.”

The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth (the 2021 host) and Riley. Adams has won six sectional titles — the last in 2009.

Adams plays its home games at School Field, which is located about a mile off-campus next to the football field of the same name and Jefferson Traditional School.

Mike Cass (South Bend John Adams High School Photo)

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)