Tag Archives: Hammond Central

Traina building team chemistry with Merrillville Pirates

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

Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry.
“We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.”
There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents.
Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal.
Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary.
Traina has had his athletes doing the same.
“They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.”
Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso).
The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996.
Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville.
When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer.
“It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.”
The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022.
Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant.
Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out.
“They were like bench coaches,” says Traina.
The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach.
Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport.
Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program.
“We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).”
Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity.
Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon.
Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college).
Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks.
Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger.
“He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.”
He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people.
“I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children.
Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary.
Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach.
Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller.
After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor.
“I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.”
He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.

Joe Traina. (Merrillville High School Photo)

Caston establishing system in first year of Hammond Central Wolves

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

Hammond (Ind.) Central High School’s first baseball season in 2022 will come under the leadership of head coach Michael Caston.
The 1998 Hammond High graduate has set a path for the Wolves.
“We have a philosophy we’re going to follow,” says Caston. “You have to learn and buy into the philosophy to be successful.”
Caston, who was head coach at Hammond Gavit following stints as a Calumet College of St. Joseph assistant and assistant then head coach at Chicago State University, breaks his philosophy into offense, defense, pitching and base running.
“Early in the count we’re looking to drive fastballs in the strike zone,” says Caston of his hitting theory. “I believe in ‘back spin’ baseball.’ The ball travels father and we hit it into the gaps.
“We want to get front foot down early to create base. As the front foot gets down, you load your hands and transfer your weight to explode on the ball. We keep the barrel of the bat up and take the shortest path to the ball. That creates your launch angle.”
Knowing that there is a 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) in high school, Caston expects an attack mentality.
“If you have a good fastball, throw fastballs early in the county,” says Caston. “We we’re not going to waste any pitches. Why throw curveballs when nobody has hit your fastball yet?
“We like to pound the zone with fastballs early.”
With a dozen juniors and seniors and a mix of right-handers and left-handers in a group of 26 players (varsity and junior varsity), Caston expects them to carry the load for the Wolves and that includes on the mound.
“Defensively, it’s very simple,” says Caston. “If you can catch it and throw it, you’re going to be very successful.”
He has been teaching his players backhand and glove-side techniques as well as situational defense.
He wants his defenders to know what to do with the ball when it’s put in-play and practice reflects that.
“In the game it becomes natural to them,” says Caston. “In our system everyone knows they have a job on every play.”
Caston wants his Wolves to play a “very exciting brand of baseball” and that includes aggressiveness on the base paths.
“I like to advance runners various ways,” says Caston. “We don’t move runners by bunting. I pride myself in having players reading balls in the dirt before they even hit the dirt. We like to utilize fake bunt-and-steal.
“We’re very aggressive on the base paths on hits to the outfield. We want to force the (opposing defense) to make a clean play.”
Caston has been pleased at his player’s eagerness to learn.
“It’s a total change for most of the kids I’m coaching,” says Caston. “They’re amazed at all the new things they’ve been learning. They’ve learned to change their old habits to the new philosophy.
“They’re catching on pretty quickly.”
Hammond Central assistant coaches are Albert Carpen and Erick Chavarria at the varsity level and Michael Korba with the JV. All three are graduates of Hammond Clark High School. Carpen played for Caston at Chicago State and Chavarria at MacMurray College. Carpen was among the top hitters in NCAA Division I in 2012 when he posted an average of .426 and on-base percentage of .522.
Hammond High was razed to make way for the new Hammond Central and Clark was also closed, leaving the School City of Hammond with two high schools — Central and Morton.
In 2022, Hammond Central will play baseball home games at Gavit. A new field is planned on the Central campus.
Hammond Central’s first college baseball commit is Anthony Huber to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.
Most Hammond Gavit players landed at Morton. Among those getting collegiate looks is Ryan Peppers.
The feeder system includes Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, Hammond Optimist Youth Sports and Hessville Little League plus various travel ball organizations.
Hammond Central (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Morton).
Each GLAC team meets twice.
The Wolves are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland (2022 host), Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster.
Among opponents not in the GLAC or sectional are Bowman Academy, Calumet Christian, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Hammond Bishop Noll, River Forest and Whiting.
Caston, a middle infielder growing up, played three seasons for George Malis and his senior year for Greg O’Donnell at Hammond High. He was a pitcher at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for head coach Paul Twenge.
“I was a young kid on a veteran team,” says Caston of his freshmen season at Hammond. “Coach Malis said ‘go out there and do your thing and focus on hitting the ball up the middle.’ I took those words to hear and executed what he told me.”
In his first year of college, famed pitching coach Tom House came in for a week and Caston adopted some of House’s ideas about mechanics.
Caston teaches Integrated Chemistry and Physics in his first year at Morton. He taught at Gavit for four.
Michael has been married to Tina Caston for five years and has three stepsons — Nathan (20), William (13) and Lukas (12). William plays football and baseball, Lukas soccer and baseball.

Michael Caston.

As first official practice approaches, Hensley heading up HAST Hawks

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a place where a baseball can be pitched and struck in Indiana and land in Illinois.

That place is Hermits Park in the 4200 block of Dearborn Avenue on the north side of Hammond, Ind.

In the spring of 2021, the big diamond — where a home run to left field or deep center can clear the state line which cuts through the outfield — will be home to the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) baseball program. The school’s softball team will also play at Hermits.

Dennis Hensley, who has been affiliated with the Hammond Hermits Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League for 19 years and was with Robertsdale Youth Baseball before that, was just named HAST Hawks head coach.

“We started a partnership last year then COVID hit and everything stopped,” says Hensley. “We were one of the last (youth baseball/softball) associations to fold. We were down to only our high school level team that traveled.”

In the fall, Hermits Outlaws played in a fall league at the Ho Chunk Sports Complex in Lynwood, Ill., which is 12 miles southwest of Hermits Park.

Hensley, who is assisted by Travis McKimmey and Ryan Massey, held his last HAST baseball call-out meeting March 11 and has had 10 coming to conditioning sessions. There is hope that more will joint the team. The first IHSAA practice is Monday, March 15. 

“We have a real fresh batch,” says Hensley, noting there a a few players who’ve played high school baseball with others who have been away for years or are fairly new to the sport.

“We’ll start with new or younger guys,” says Hensley. “But we gladly accept that challenge.

“There might be more of a level playing field since everybody did not play last year.”

While the focus this spring will be on a varsity team, Hensley says he hopes to bring baseball to middle schoolers — at HAST and the surrounding area — through the partnership with Hermits.

Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (enrollment around 300) is an independent and not affiliated with the conference.

The Hawks are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter-Gary, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Kouts, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville

The IHSAA announced this week that Washington Township will be sectional host.

HAST’s first appearance in the state tournament series was in 2017. The Hawks have not won a sectional championship.

While changes continue to be made to the schedule, Hensley says he expects his club to have around 20 regular-season games.

HAST, which was established in 2010, is a charter school focused on both science and technology with a heavy emphasis on a small teacher-to-student ratio. It is both a high school and middle school with grades ranging from 6-12.

Not affiliated with HAST, School City of Hammond currently has four high schools — Hammond, Clark, Gavit and Morton — and will cut down to two. 

The district is scheduled in 2021-22 to have Hammond and Clark combine into the new Hammond Central with current Gavit students being divided between Hammond Central and Morton.

“It’s always sad to see a part of someone’s history go,” says Hensley, a 1988 Clark graduate. “But we’re looking for change and something new.”

Dennis and Gail Hensley have been married for 26 years. The couple has two adult children — Taylor (25) and Dennis (20). 

Gail Hensley works for the City of Hammond.

Taylor Hensley, who played volleyball and basketball at Whiting (Ind.) High School, graduated from Calumet College of St. Joseph and is with the Merrillville Police Department. 

Dennis Hensley, a five-year cancer survivor, played baseball at Whiting and now works at Wolf Lake Terminals. 

An aerial view of Hermits Park in Hammond, Ind., with the big diamond split by the Indiana-Illinois State Line in the foreground.
Dennis Hensley is the head baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Academy of Science and Technology. The Hawks first played in the IHSAA state tournament series in 2017.