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Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (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). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

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The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

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Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

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The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

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The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.

 

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Bogner keeping the bar set high for Highland Trojans baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tradition is an important concept for Highland (Ind.) High School baseball.

“We take a lot of pride in wearing our ‘H’ on our chest,” says John Bogner, who enters his sixth season as Trojans head coach and the 23rd in the program in 2019. “ We remember the kids who played at Highland previously. We want to have solid program that everyone should at least have on their radar.”

The 2018 Trojans went 22-8 and placed second to eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean in the Northwest Crossroads Conference after posting a 21-8 mark in 2017.

Bogner (pronounced BOAG-ner) was hired at Highland as a math teacher and has coached football, wrestling and baseball at various levels. He was the head freshmen baseball coach his first five springs then a varsity assistant for 12.

That was under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller, who amassed more than 600 wins, nine sectional titles, four regionals and one semistate and sent dozens of players on to college baseball from 1982-2013. Two of Miller’s former players — outfielder Tony Terzarial and left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s hard to replace a Hall of Fame coach,” says Bogner. “But we try to keep the bar as he set it.”

Bogner says he also appreciated Miller’s organization, attention to detail, his ability to handle kids and his game strategy.

Two members of the Highland Class of 2018 — catcher Nick Anderson (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) and third baseman Damen Castillo (Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.) — on to college diamonds. Current senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Siska is committed to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill.

To get some exposure for players and to give some a taste for travel, Highland will play in the early-season Super Prep Series hosted by Louisville Ballard.

Bogner asks his players to be focused on the field, take a disciplined approach at the plate and throw strikes with command on the mound.

“We want to do everything right,” says Bogner. “My players say, ‘you’re pretty old-fashioned.’

“I take that as a compliment.”

Depending upon the year, Highland generally has 45 to 55 players filling varsity, junior varsity and freshmen rosters.

That means about 16 to 18 with the varsity. Sometimes they rotate on road trips because of the capacity of activity buses.

“Our kids are good about knowing their roles,” says Bogner, who keeps his bench players active with scorebooks and spray charts and as bullpen catchers etc. “Highland’s always had really good kids. It’s made my job easier.”

This year, 22 sophomores indicated their interest in playing baseball for the Royal Blue and Gold.

The 2019 coaching staff will have Matt Bugajski and Bryan Gordon assisting with the varsity and Sam Michel leading the junior varsity. Volunteers at the JV and freshmen levels are Brian Lukich, Nik Mason and Will Kerber. A head freshmen coach is being sought.

The Trojans play on a on-campus diamond that sits along 41st Street. A donation by long-time Highland American Legion Post 180 manager George Bizoukas is bringing lights to the facility.

“This gives us some flexibility for practice times,” says Bogner. “And we can now host a sectional at the high school.”

Highland is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Lake Central, Lowell and Munster, the host for many years. The Trojans last won a sectional title in 2000.

Besides Highland and Andrean, the Northwest Crossroads Conference includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. The loop plays 10 games with home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bogner’s high school program is fed by Highland Little League and Highland Babe Ruth. He estimates about a third of his players play travel baseball.

“You have to play int he summer to beat schools like Lake Central and Munster,” says Bogner.

The 2019 season will mark the third that the IHSAA has adopted 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).

“We’ve adapted to it,” says Bogner. “We were never guilty of blowing kids’ arms out (when the rule was 10 innings every three days). We used a lot of common sense.”

Bogner says he recently sent a letter to IHSBCA leadership lamenting that there are coaches out there that don’t show common sense with their pitches.

“You have to trust that your coach knows what’s going on and looks out for you,” says Bogner.

Prior to the rule and even since it has been put in place, Bogner has built up his pitchers arms in the winter. He has them working on pitch sequences and pitch-outs.

“By the end end of February bullpens, our goal is to be up to 80 pitches,” says Bogner. “But I don’t want my guys touching a baseball in December as far as throwing goes. You need to rest.”

This fall, the Trojans that were available to practice took part in a long toss program then players broke into positions. Bogner was coaching football, so practices were usually held late.

Bogner is a 1990 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for coach Jim Anderson.

“He taught us a lot about the game and its nuances,” says Bogner. “He wanted us to play with class. ‘Don’t play bush league’ was something he often said. He was a very good coach. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him.”

Anderson did not want his players focusing on their statistics.

“He’d say, ‘play the game right and the rest will take care of itself,” says Bogner, who went on to play two seasons as a catcher and designated hitter at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich.

Bogner recalls playing catch with Roadrunners coach Courtney Jasiak at the family cabin on Gravel Lake in Lawton, Mich., before committing to the school.

Jasiak had coached future big league star Derek Jeter at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School.

“I was like a sponge with that guy,” says Bogner of Jasiak. “He made me into a technician.”

Purdue University Calumet (now part of Purdue University Northwest) did not have a baseball team when Bogner went there to finish his degree.

Bogner did his student teaching at Calumet High School, where baseball head coach Woody Feeler (who had been his American Legion coach when he was in high school) let him run the show.

“It was like I was an associate head coach,” says Bogner. “I was neck deep.”

In the fall of 1996, he was hired at Highland and has been there ever since.

John is the middle son of Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute and Purdue University graduate Jack Bogner and Pam Schuhrke (her husband is Jim). Older brother Jeff lives in St. Louis and younger brother James is in Merrillville, Ind.

Married for 19 years, John and Mandy Bogner have two sons. Justin Bogner is a junior football, wrestling and baseball athlete at Highland. Jason Bogner is a Highland Middle School grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John and Mandy Bogner have been married for 19 years. John is the head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. He also teaches math and coaches football and wrestling.

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John Bogner (left) and oldest son Justin Bogner share a moment on the football field as assistant coach and player. John Bogner is head baseball coach and Justin Bogner a player for Highland (Ind.) High School’s baseball program.

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Jason Bogner is the youngest son of John and Mandy Bogner. His father is head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. Jason is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John Bogner is entering his 23rd season as a coach in the Highland (Ind.) High School baseball program — the sixth as head coach — in 2019.

 

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.

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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.