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Swartzentruber’s career and baseball path leads him to Lake Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man from the lower left corner of the Indiana map has made it to the upper left.

And he’s enjoyed high school baseball coaching success in his new home at Lake Central.

Mike Swartzentruber graduated from Washington (Ind.) High School in 1990 then Oakland City University and began his teaching and coaching career at North Posey.

In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.

The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.

Three LC players from the Class of 2018 — second baseman Justin Graves, first baseman Conner Hoffman and outfielder Ray Hilbrich (who is out for the rest of the season with an injury) — have committed to play college baseball for the elder Griffin, who is now head coach at Purdue Northwest.

From North Posey, Swartzentruber moved to Martinsville High School for a seven-season stint.

“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.

“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”

He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.

“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.

“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”

The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.

Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.

“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”

Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.

Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.

Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.

“I knew the history,” says Swartzentruber. “I knew Coach (Jeff) Sandor had won a (Class 4A) state championship in 2012. I knew about all the 20-win seasons.”

Iwema put in words of recommendation for Swartzentruber. They now are colleagues in the business department at LC.

Iwema is an assistant to Brian Jennings at Griffith. Swartzentruber and Iwema share notes on common opponents.

After achieving a 23-9 mark and the latest of the program’s 18 sectional titles in 2017, Swartzentruber’s 2018 LC Indians are 22-5. On Wednesday, Lake Central beat Chesterton for the Duneland Athletic Conference championship. Other teams in the DAC are Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso.

The Munster Sectional, which also features East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland and Lowell, is next week.

Lake Central just celebrated Senior Night and seven players from that class have committed to play college baseball. Besides Graves, Hoffman and Hilbrich, there’s shortstop Conner Tomasic (Purdue University), left-handed pitcher Marty Ewing (Indiana University South Bend), left fielder Giovanni Lopez (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and catcher Hunter Zahorsky (South Suburban College).

From Swartzentruber’s first LC team in 2017, Ben Nisle went on to Purdue, Joe Graziano to Butler University, Matt Litwicki to Indiana University, Kyle Freel to Purdue Northwest, Jarrett Lopez to Indiana Tech, Nick Bandura to Indiana Wesleyan, Chris Fundich to Danville Area Community College and Tyler Frank to play football at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.

“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.

“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.

“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”

Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.

“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”

Grant Weinmann, who played at Lowell High School and went to the University of Louisville, is LC’s pitching coach.

“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”

Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.

“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.

John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.

Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.

Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.

“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.

“My biggest influence is my dad.”

Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.

Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.

“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.

“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”

At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.

MIKESWARTZENTRUBER

After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.

 

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Coaches encouraged to nominate seniors for IHSBCA All-Star Series in South Bend

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Plans are coming together for the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series Friday through Sunday, July 20-22 in South Bend.

The July 20 IHSBCA Junior Showcase and July 21-22 All-Star Series games will be played at Four Winds Field, home of the Class-A South Bend Cubs.

The All-Star banquet is slated for July 20 at the Century Center in Downtown South Bend. Former Elkhart Central High School, Bethel College and Milwaukee Brewers minor league pitcher Greg Kloosterman has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

Selection of the squads, which will include senior players from all four classes (25 from the South and 25 from the North), is scheduled the morning of the IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

North and South committees will review the names sent in from the 16 district meetings held on June 3.

Each head coach, who is an IHSBCA member, will receive notification from the district representative informing him of the time and place of the meeting.

District reps are Bob Glover (Hobart) in A, Mark Schellinger (New Prairie) in B, Jim Treadway (Elkhart Central assistant) in C, Pat McMahon (Fort Wayne Canterbury) in D, Andy McClain (Norwell) in E, Travis Keesling (Pendleton Heights) in F, Jay Malott (South Dearborn) in G, Brad King (New Castle) in H, Ryan Wolfe (Plymouth) in I, Kyle Neal (Attica) in J, Matt Cherry (Fishers) in K, Jeff McKeon (Decatur Central assistant) in L, Kyle Kraemer (Terre Haute South Vigo) in M, Jeremy Richey (Seymour) in N, Brian Kirchoff (Northeast Dubois) in O and Mike Goedde (Evansville Central) in P.

A member MUST be present at the meeting to have a senior player nominated for consideration for the 2018 All-Star squads.

Each school is allowed to nominate up to three senior players for All-Star consideration.

Ricky Romans (Charlestown) will chair the South selection committee. Other members are Goedde, Dick Alter (Indianapolis Lutheran), Steve Bray (Northeastern), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Zach Payne (Lanesville), Jeremy Sassanella (Brebeuf Jesuit), Tim Terry (South Vermillion) and Justin Tucker (Batesville).

Kevin Hannon (Knox) will chair the North selection committee and be assisted by Wolfe, Ryan Berryman (Western), Chuck Brimbury (Peru), Jason Garrett (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger), Brian Jennings (Griffith), Justin Keever (Noblesville), Dave Neuenschwander (Adams Central) and Bob Shinkan (Munster).

Brian Abbott is executive director of the IHSBCA.

IHSBCALOGO

The 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series is July 20-22 in South Bend.

 

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.

RICKODETTESAINTLEO

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)

 

Second baseball coaching stint at Peru rewarding for Brimbury

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chuck Brimbury has enjoyed each stage of his professional life — from teacher and coach to assistant principal to principal to superintendent and then to athletic director along with a return to coach.

Brimbury is really basking in his second go-round as head baseball coach at Peru High School.

“I’ve loved every single job I’ve had in education,” says Brimbury, who also served 15 years as a football coach at Peru, including one as interim head coach. “The more you move up, the farther you seem to be from the kids and the daily guidance of them. I missed coaching. It was huge part of my life.

“I’ve been blessed to get back into it.”

After serving four years as superintendent of Peru Community Schools and helping to earn the district four-star status as one of the best-performing systems in Indiana, he opted in June 2014 to become AD and once again lead the Tigers on the diamond.

Beginning in 1998, Brimbury previously held the job for a decade.

“We had a really good run,” says Brimbury, whose teams were state-ranked in most seasons and had his 2000 squad reach the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four.

Brimbury borrowed methods he learned while serving as an assistant to Don Sherman at Huntington North High School.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer taught him all the intricacies of running a successful baseball operation.

“We believe in holding people to high standards,” says Brimbury. “We get off the bus all looking the same and we stay together. Our top players carry the water cooler. There’s no job too small.”

Peru baseballers wears “Program” on their shirts to remind themselves and everyone else that “the program is more important than any player or any coach.”

Brimbury also uses drills and teaching methods gleaned from Hall of Famers Bill Jones of DeKalb, Bill Nixon of Plymouth and Chris Stavreti of Fort Wayne Northrop as well as the man who won 1,010 games and seven state championships — Ken Schreiber of LaPorte.

It doesn’t have to be a Thursday for the Tigers to throwing it back.

“We’re throwbacks,” says Brimbury. “It’s an old-school approach and our kids thrive off it.

“If you resemble a lot of guys with blue rings you’ll get one for your community one day. If their kids can do it, we can do it. We believe that here. We use a lot of what works.”

In his first season back in charge (2015), Brimbury enjoyed Peru’s first sectional championship since 2000.

When the Mid-Indiana Conference dissolved at the end on the 2014-15 academic school year, the Tigers joined the Three Rivers Conference and have reigned in baseball in their first two seasons in the new league (2016 and 2017).

“It’s a really good small-school conference,” says Brimbury of a conference which also includes Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, North Miami, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko. “I really enjoy the competition.”

Brimbury has also savored the ability to build a non-conference which has pitted the Tigers against the best competition from around the state and to a variety of venues.

Peru played Lafayette Central Catholic at Purdue University and both Providence and Rossville at Alexandria-Monroe in 2017 and this year will feature a program first — a southern spring break trip with stops at League Stadium in Huntingburg (where much of the movie “A League of Their Own” was filmed) to play Southridge and games at Muhlenberg County and Christian County in Kentucky.

“I want to make sure these kids have a tremendous experience in their four years at Peru,” says Brimbury. “I like exposing these kids to beautiful places and really good programs.

“Each year our schedule is a little different. We want to get our kids used to playing on the road.”

The idea is to prepare the Tigers for the postseason, which begins in 2018 with the Peru Sectional but another title would mean a trek to the always-tough Griffith Regional.

Getting to Griffith will be no small task. The 3A sectional grouping also features Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, West Lafayette and Western.

Peru is to play at Indiana State University May 5.

Nolan Brimbury — the oldest of Chuck and Michelle Brimbury’s three children — is a redshirt sophomore infielder for the Indiana State Sycamores.

Tiger Field will also be the site of 2018 Miami County Classic. Two of the three teams that visit Peru feature head coaches with close ties to Brimbury — former assistant Shane Edwards at Oak Hill and former player Troy Hudson at North Miami. Maconaquah rounds out the field for the May 12 all-day event.

“We have an old-time field,” says Brimbury. “It’s beautiful at night. It’s a really good atmosphere for home games.

“It’s one of the better small-school stadiums out there.”

Brimbury’s public address announcer at Tiger Field and assistant at Peru athletic events is Mike Stewart.

Now retired, Stewart was Chuck’s baseball coach at Fountain Central High School who also found his way to “Tiger Town.”

“(Stewart) was passionate about the game,” says Brimbury, who graduated from high school in 1988 and went on to play a little at Marian University in Indianapolis and receive various degrees from Indiana State.

Every Peru game and a weekly coach’s show has been on the radio (thanks to 101.9 FM and broadcasters Bob Stambazze and Doug Muzzillo) and many contests are shown on student-run Tiger TV.

Several players saw significant varsity action last spring, meaning Brimbury welcomes back 17 lettermen.

Among the senior returnees are catcher Nathan Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s son and a 2017 IHSBCA Junior Showcase invitee), right-hander Lucas McConahay (the top returning pitcher), outfielders Austin Caldwell and Robert Cunningham, second baseman Kasey Comp, first baseman Christian Gatliff and designated hitter Nathan Ramirez.

Juniors include third baseman Blake Edwards, outfielder D.J. Fuller, catcher Payton Honn and left-handers Chance Ogle and Zach Purcell.

Sophomores in the mix are right-hander/third baseman/shorstop Michael Chandler, outfielder Jonah Hoopenthal, outfielder/shortstop Daunte Majors, middle infielder Dmitry Reese and right-handers Jackson Green and Chase Tyler.

Hitting coach Rob Hileman has been with Brimbury in every season in both of his tenures except one. Jody Beauchamp is the Tigers pitching coach. Shawn Dwyer, Josh Ulrey, Brad Townsend, Gary Loe and strength coach complete the high school staff.

Sixth grader Madison Brimbury (Chuck and Michelle’s daughter) is a baseball student manager.

Michelle Brimbury, who is a special education teacher at PHS, is also team mom.

Feeders for the high school program include a Peru Junior High School team, which is expected to play 12 to 15 games in April and May.

There is also the Peru Cal Ripken League and many players wind up with various travel baseball organizations.

Besides Nolan Brimbury, recent Peru graduates on college baseball rosters include left-handed pitcher Cameron Beauchamp (Indiana University) and right-handers Dexter Shuler (Franklin College) and Sean Smith (Wabash College).

Beauchamp (2016) and Smith (2017) were both IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series participants.

“It’s fulfilling to see our kids playing at some level above high school and we try to keep (former players) a part of our program,” says Brimbury, who regularly welcomes baseball alums from his first Peru head coaching stint into his dugout and is now coaching the sons of some former players. “It’s a long history of former Tiger baseball players.

“We are totally vested in the success of our kids here.”

MICHELLENATHANNOLANCHUCKMADISONBRIMBURY

The Brimbury family celebrates Peru High School’s 2015 sectional baseball championship (from left): Michelle, Nathan, Nolan, Chuck and Madison. In 2018, Chuck is in the fourth season of his second tenure as head coach. Nathan is a senior catcher. Michelle is team mom. Madison is student manager. Nolan is now a redshirt sophomore at Indiana State University.

Competitiveness, accountability priorities for Lake Station Edison’s Mahar

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a young coach leading the way, the Eagles of Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School are looking to reach higher on the baseball diamond.

Ben Mahar, 25, is running the Lake Station program with the help of assistants Ryan Hodge and Matt Johnson.

The 2018 season will mark Mahar’s third at the Lake County school. Participation has increased each year. He started with about a dozen, moved to 18 last year (when he began teaching at the school) and this year has around 25 with Hodge doing much of the recruiting.

Mahar and company are working with eager athletes, but many of them do not have the baseball backgrounds of some teams on the Eagles’ schedule. Some are just coming to the game for the first time in high school.

“They have so talent but they haven’t been coached on how to use that talent,” says Mahar. “They lack the belief in themselves that they are able to compete at a higher level when they can.

“Instilling confidence is a very hard thing. It takes constant repetition in practice and them realizing that — after awhile — they can coach themselves.”

With knowledge, players can see for themselves where they need to make adjustments.

“The biggest thing is them building the accountability with each other.,” says Mahar “If they’re holding each other accountable, it makes our job a lot easier.

“We hold them to a higher standard because of what they’ve decided to do.”

Mahar graduated from Mundelein (Ill.) High School in 2011 and pitched at Valparaiso University, graduating in 2015.

He credits Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack for his emphasis on the competitive nature of baseball.

“If you were not competing with yourself, your teammates or the people in the dugout across from you, what were you doing it for?,” says Mahar. “That’s what Coach Hodge and I try to bring to the program at Lake Station.”

Hodge, who grew up playing baseball in northwest Indiana, left corporate America in 2011 and coordinates his work schedule around supporting the game of baseball in the Calumet Region.

Hodge and Mahar are hoping to bring a summer program for Lake Station players if not in 2018 then 2019.

“The kids want to do something,” says Hodge.

There’s also a unity and camaraderie factor.

“The more they’re hanging around each other, the better,” says Mahar.

Johnson played at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City and is working toward his teaching degree.

Mahar teaches world history. Is there a connection between that and baseball?

“Baseball is a conceptual learning process. You’re constantly learning in baseball,” says Mahar. “With history, you’re constantly learning how concepts in the past are affecting us today.”

Besides Lake Station, baseball members of the Greater South Shore Conference are Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting.

This year, the conference is going away from Saturday doubleheaders and league games are to be played on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Mahar says winning conference games will be seen as no more or no less important than winning out-of-conference contests.

“Any time you step out on the field, you’re there to win a game,” says Mahar. “If we’re putting emphasis on one game or the other, it does a disservice to the opponent we’re playing it does a disservice to us.

“There’s no one game I’m seeking to win more than others. Winning every game is the important thing.”

Lake Station has an enrollment around 380 and competes in IHSAA Class 2A at state tournament time. With Bowman Academy and Gary Roosevelt sitting out the postseason, the 2017 Whiting Sectional was a four-teamer with Lake Station, Whiting, Hammond Bishop Noll and River Forest.

In program history, Lake Station has won four sectionals (1968, 1969, 1973 and 2005) and three regionals (1968, 1969 and 2005).

Baseball has evolved to the point where some program have “pitcher-only” players — aka “P.O.’s.” That was Mahar’s role as a high school senior and in college.

That won’t be the approach for the Eagles.

“For a program like us, we need everybody to pitch,” says Mahar.

A product of the travel baseball system, Mahar has seen the overuse of player’s arms.

He sees players attending showcases in December when their arm is not ready and they are on a path toward injury if they do not get a handle on proper arm care.

He intends to be careful with the arms of his Lake Station players.

As a part of the players taking ownership of the program and being accountable, they are responsible for the maintenance of the Eagles’ on-campus diamond. A list of duties is posted in the dugout.

“They take pride in taking care of the field,” says Mahar. “We’ve made significant improvements. We’ve re-done mound and the plate and edged the infield and it’s all the kids doing it.

“There’s always stuff that could be done. It’s their field.”

RYANHODGEBENMAHAR

Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School baseball will be led in 2018 by head coach Ben Mahar (right) and assistants Ryan Hodge (left) and Matt Johnson (not pictured). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Kosinski sees continuity lead to success for River Forest baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a new sense of stability and direction, the baseball program at River Forest High School in Hobart has turned things around.

With head coach Michael Kosinski and assistant Mark Zimmerle providing the guidance, the Ingots have been molded into a competitive squad.

Kosinski played four varsity seasons at River Forest before graduating in 2009. With four different head coaches, the Ingots won a total of 15 games.

Good enough as a right-handed pitcher to be recruited by Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Kosinski joined the Pumas. Because of financial issues, he only stayed a half year. But he soaked up all the baseball he could from head coach Rick O’Dette (now at Saint Leo University in Florida since the closing of SJC following the 2017 season) and the rest of the squad.

“I would watch everything that went on,” says Kosinski.

He put the knowledge to good use when he returned home.

“I always wanted to coach, but I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity at such a young age,” says Kosinski. “I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

The 2018 season marks Zimmerle’s 10th with River Forest and eighth with Kosinski. Zimmerle was head coach when Kosinski came back and the two traded roles before the 2015 campaign.

“We’ve built up a great relationship and we are where we are now,” says Kosinski. “We’ve done as good a job as we can with the talent’s that’s presented to us. We’ve taken less and gotten more out of it.

“A lot of our guys have bought into the program and that’s a big thing.”

During the school day, Zimmerle is head of buildings and grounds and Kosinski is head custodian.

As baseball coaches, the two have stressed repetition, fundamentals and trust and watched the Ingots set single-season school records for wins in both 2015 and 2016, going 15-14 in each of those springs. The 2017 squad posted a 14-13 mark.

“Repetition and fundamentals — that’s what we preach,” says Kosinski. “We want it to become muscle memory.”

When college players come around Ingot practices, they see the same kinds of things being done that they do at their schools.

“Nothing is better there,” says Kosinski. “It’s just said differently.”

Kosinski tends to work with pitchers and catchers and Zimmerle directs the offensive side of things.

“He explains it better,” says Kosinski.

River Forest is an IHSAA Class 2A school that has been competing in the Whiting Sectional. The Ingots are still looking for their first sectional hardware.

The eight baseball-playing schools in the Greater South Shore Conference are River Forest, Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting. For 2018, league teams will play home-and-home two-game series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

With this set-up, GSSC teams will have to use more than one starting pitcher against any given conference opponent.

Last season, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It’s kind of what we’ve been doing,” says Kosinski. “Our (starters) get four or five days rest. (The new rule) also creates a whole different dynamic. Boone Grove pitched (their ace) a lot before the rule. They were a different team when he wasn’t on the mound. That’s what I like about it.”

Kosinski also has a different take on collecting a game’s 21 outs.

“I used to throw everything hard and try to strike everyone out,” says Kosinski. “(Right-hander) Ryan Slavey (who now plays at nearby Calumet College of St. Joseph) led the state and set a school record for us with 155 strikeouts (in 91 1/3 innings) in 2015. Now, I’d rather you get 18 ground balls and a couple pop-ups and get us through the week.”

Kosinski notes that River Forest right-hander Anthony Rodriguez had never earned a varsity letter in any sport before tossing 45 2/3 innings for the Ingots as a junior last spring.

“He was phenomenal,” says Kosinski. Right-handers Josiah Zambrana (51 innings) and Milan Wendrickx (40) are both expected back for the their senior and junior years, respectively.

“We will base our pitching rotation off what wins we can get,” says Kosinski.

The Ingots recently began fall workouts and had around 30 players come out on the first day. River Forest has only a varsity squad and Kosinski and Zimmerle generally keep 15 to 18 players. The school’s on-campus field got its first electronic scoreboard in 2017.

While there is no formal feeder system for the Ingots, players do come from Lake Station Little League. Once junior high basketball is complete, Kosinski expects to get around 10 seventh and eighth graders — future Ingots — to come out and help with the varsity team.

“The seventh grade class is what we’re really banking on,” says Kosinski of a group that was coached at Lake Station Little League as fifth graders by Scott Galligan.

MICHAELKOSINSKI

Michael Kosinski, a 2009 River Forest High School graduate, heads into his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. He was an Ingots assistant for four seasons before taking over the program in 2015.

Gumpf credits chemistry for major part in South Bend St. Joseph run to 3A title game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Gumpf has enjoyed watching his South Bend St. Joseph Indians take turns wearing the hero label on the way to the program’s first IHSAA state championship game appearance.

“It’s not one person all the time doing it,” says Gumpf, who sends St. Joseph (24-4) against Jasper (30-4) in the 3A title game (following the 11 a.m. 1A game) Saturday June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. “It could be top half the order one time. It could be the bottom half of the order one time. It could be our defense. It could be our pitching. It’s been a team effort throughout.”

Team chemistry has also played a major part in the Tribe’s success.

“(Chemistry) can take you a long way,” says Gumpf. “They’re a pretty loose group. They enjoy one another. They are definitely fighters. They don’t quit.”

Gumpf, who is in his 10th season as head coach, says he plans to send junior left-hander Michael Dunkelberger to the mound against Jasper. It has been Dunkelberger and junior right-hander Alex Voss logging most of the playoff innings for St. Joe.

The new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) have not been a real concern for Gumpf in ’17.

“My goal for these kids is to play at the next level and I don’t want to jeopardize anything by overthrowing them,” says Gumpf. “During the year, you’ve got to manage it a little more. We did have pitchers throwing their (between-appearances) bullpens more during games this year.”

Voss slammed a key three-run home run in the semistate.

The Indians’ path to the championship game includes wins over New Prairie and Culver Academies at the Jimtown Sectional, Griffith and John Glenn at the Griffith Regional and NorthWood at the Plymouth Semistate on the heels of a strong regular-season schedule which featured against Northern Indiana Conference foes Penn (2017 4A state finalist) and Glenn plus one game against 4A Plymouth and doubleheader vs. 3A Fort Wayne Dwenger.

St. Joe won its first 16 games of the season before falling to Penn in mid-May.

“I try to schedule games that will help us play into June,” says Gumpf, who also serves as assistant athletic director at St. Joe. “I think it has helped us.”

Gumpf, who played in the Minnesota Twins organization from 1989-92, coached high school baseball and junior college football in southern California before coming to South Bend when wife Deanna took an assistant softball job at Notre Dame (2017 was her 16th season as Irish head coach). John was a volunteer softball coach at ND for four seasons and volunteer Irish baseball assistant for three more before taking over the St. Joseph baseball program.

Gumpf, 45, is a stickler for the fundamentals.

“The biggest thing is doing the little things,” says Gumpf. “If you do the little things, the spectacular things will come.”

After giving his team Monday off, he planned to go back to work on Tuesday with the players and coaching staff of John Smolinski, Ray Torres, Nick Kleva, Drew Mentock, Dan Mentock, Ryan Newland, Ted Pajakowski and Tom Kostielney.

“We’re going up against a great baseball team in Jasper with great baseball tradition,” says Gumpf. “Hopefully they’re not scared, but excited to be a part of this.

“It’ll be fun If we do the best we can and bring home a state championship.”

JOHNGUMPF

John Gumpf, in his 10th season as head baseball coach at South Bend St. Joseph High School, will lead the Indians against Jasper in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game on Saturday, June 17. (St. Joseph Photo)