Adam Bednarek is taking lessons he learned in high school, college and on the travel ball circuit and applying them in his first season as head baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Morton High School. Bednarek was hired to head the Governors program at the end of the summer of 2022 and began his first year of teaching (U.S. History) and Morton in the fall. Morton (enrollment around 1,675) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Central). The Governors are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hobart, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. Morton has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2015. Born in Illinois and raised in Dyer, Ind., Bednarek went to Andrean High School in nearby Merrillville, and played for Indiana High School Baseball Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur, who has eight state titles and more than 1,000 victories to his credit. Bednarek was in the program from 2014 to 2017. He was rostered as a sophomore but did not dress for the 2015 IHSAA Class 3A State Finals. He was a second baseman on the varsity in 2016 and moved to third base in 2017 after tearing a meniscus. What does Bednarek, who wore No. 16 in Red and Gold, remember most about time spent with the veteran 59ers skipper? “Coach Pishkur is unbelievable at teaching all sorts of baserunning things — especially stealing third base,” says Bednarek. “I became a much better baserunner during my time at Andrean.” Three of Bednarek’s four Morton assistants — Danny Murray, Eric Mularski and Sawyer Allen — played with him in high school. Only longtime Governors assistant and Babe Ruth League coach Vern Jefferson did not. Bednarek and company led Morton players who were able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions with an emphasis on fundamentals and defensive situations. A drill he learned from Pishkur — The Runs Game — was part of the twice-a-week workouts. It’s essentially living batting practice on the clock. The offensive team might get 10 minutes to score as many runs in that time. The catch is there are four live balls and the hitting team has to track down the foul balls and get them back into the game before the next pitch can be thrown. “We create fun chaos,” says Bednarek. “It’s a really fast pace and there’s a lot of conditioning.” Winter has been dedicated mostly arm conditioning and strength training with players in the weight room about three times a week. Bednarek has had 26 players sign up for baseball and he might gain a few once the varsity boys basketball season ends. The plan calls for Morton to field varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring, playing home games on Georgas Field (named for former coach Jack Georgas). After high school, Bednarek spent one fall with the baseball team at Quincy (Ill.) University then transferred to Indiana University-Bloomington and earned a degree in Secondary Education focused on Social Studies. That’s when he began coaching in the summer — two with Bobby Morris and 5 Star National Great Lakes and one with the Indiana Playmakers.
Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.
“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”
Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.
“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”
Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.
“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).
Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992.
The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).
“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”
Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.
“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.
“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”
The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.
Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.
“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”
One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics.
When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.
“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”
Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).
The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.
“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.
“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.
Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.
“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.
After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).
“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.
“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”
Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.
“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”
At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.
“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.
On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.
“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”
Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.
Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.
“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out.
“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”
“It’s not about the hitter or the umpire,” says Gaura, heads into his third season in 2020-21. “It’s competing against ourselves.
“We’ve got to be competitive with two to three pitches and try not to over-think it.”
The Aces are beginning their fourth week of team practice after four weeks focused on individuals that missed much of their spring season (Evansville played just 16 games when play was halted in March) and summer to COVID-19.
“We’re getting them into a competitive environment as much as possible,” says Gaura. “Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we’re treating like a weekend series.”
That means starters are going four or five innings and relievers two our three. The goal is to have each arm get 18 to 20 innings by the end of fall ball.
After team practice, the plan is to go back to a week or two of individual training before Thanksgiving break.
As a COVID-19 measure, students will turn to online classes and testing and not come back to practice until the beginning of 2021. Baseball players will re-assemble in the middle of January — about a month before the start of the season.
“It’s going to be a big challenge this year,” says Gaura. “We’ll rely on guys to get in work on their own.”
Gaura (pronounced Gore-uh) is also UE’s recruiting coordinator. Because of the virus, there have not been many opportunities to see players perform in-person or have face-to-face meetings.
“It’s definitely a strange time,” says Gaura. “We work the phones to build relationships.”
That’s when coaches can get a sense of a potential recruit’s character.
Evansville’s campus is currently open to visitors who must go through a sign-in process. Academic tours are available.
Gaura is on an Aces coaching staff headed by Wes Carroll.
“Wes is an awesome guy to work for,” says Gaura, 28. “He brings energy every single day.
“He gives his assistants a lot of autonomy. He focuses on the culture of the program and allows us to coach the skill aspects of baseball. It’s a great work environment.”
From 2016-18, Gaura was at Mississippi State University, where he served as graduate assistant video coordinator, coordinator of player development and volunteer assistant/camp coordinator and headed up on-campus recruiting was responsible for the organization of all on-campus recruiting, the scholarship and recruiting database and video needs for both player development and advanced scouting.
During Gaura’s stay in Starkville, Gary Henderson was an MSU assistant then head coach. Henderson began his college coaching career in the late 1980’s.
Gaura gleaned much from the veteran coach about the intricacies of running a pitching staff and program on a day-to-day basis.
“He took me under his wing and taught me the dynamics of working with the coaches and players,” says Gaura. “With his experience, there’s so much that can be learned from him.”
Given the frosty temperatures in northeast Wisconsin, Gaura learned how to get better on the diamond from April to August and what it means to train indoors. His first travel ball came in the summer before his senior year at Bay Port. Before that, he played American Legion Baseball.
“It was a very pure baseball experience,” says Gaura, who has five players from Wisconsin and two from Canada on the Evansville roster. “What I know we’re getting there is blue collar kids from good families.
“Their best days are ahead of them. They find ways to eliminate the excuse of not being able to go outside for long toss. It’s about being creative. If you are really committed to getting better, there’s a million ways you can get your work in.”
Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.
When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.
“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.
“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.
“I wish I had it when I was playing.”
A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).
Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.
“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.
“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”
“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”
Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.
Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.
“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).
“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”
In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.
Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.
Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.
Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.
“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.
“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”
Mault was released the following year in spring training.
“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.
“But I was still going to play.”
He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.
In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.
Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.
Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)
Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.