Tag Archives: IHSAA Success Factor

Pepmeier, Salem Lions looking to raise baseball profile

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Salem (Ind.) High School is located on the northwest side of the county seat in Washington County. The city is about 40 miles northwest of Louisville, Ky.

On the boys side, Salem’s sports identity revolves around the gridiron.

“Salem has always been a football town,” says first-year Lions head baseball coach Jason Pepmeier. “Baseball’s never been a real important sport in our school.

“We’d like to put ourselves on the map.”

Pepmeier, a 1992 Salem graduate and former baseball assistant, wants the Lions to roar on the diamond.

“We put in a lot of work in the off-season and hope to reap the rewards down the road,” says Pepmeier. “We hope to get this thing rolling.

“There’s some good baseball in this area. I’d put our conference in (IHSAA Class) 3A up against anybody in the state. We hope to be competitive.”

Pepmeier says there are usually between 24 and 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams. He and assistants Jerry Hickey, Gregg Oppel and Jeffrey Burch have been working with 29 this spring as the Lions prepare for the 2019 season.

While Xavier Haendiges graduated early and is now on the baseball roster at Ohio University, returnees include senior Brandon Pepmeier and sophomore Brody Pepmeier — the coach’s sons.

Salem (enrollment around 575) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Non-conference opponents include Crawford County, Madison, Mitchell, New Washington, Orleans, Paoli, Providence, South Central, Southwestern (Hanover), Springs Valley and West Washington

The Lions are part of a 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, North Harrison, Providence, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Salem has won three sectional titles — the last in 1996.

Besides Providence, which moved up from 2A because of the IHSAA tournament success factor, Salem and Brownstown Central (enrollment around 575) are the smallest schools in the sectional field. Silver Creek is around 880, Scottsburg 780, Corydon Central 700 and North Harrison 680.

“I’d like to see (the IHSAA) go to five or six classes,” says Pepmeier. “There are quite a few discrepancies (in school sizes with the current classes).

“I’m not sure if it will ever happen.”

Besides Salem Little League, there is a junior high club program with about a dozen players on both the seventh and eighth grade squads which compete in the spring on the high school diamond.

Travel ball options include the Smash, Southern Indiana Heat, Ironmen and Rawlings Tigers.

Pepmeier moved from Vincennes to Salem in 1986 and played four years of high school baseball for head coach Derek Smith.

“He still teaches at the school and is good friend of mine,” says Pepmeier of Smith. “He was a great players’ coach. He had good baseball mind and was very supportive of all of us when when went through school.”

When Pepmeier played right field for the Lions, he had to contend with a hill inside the ballpark. That problem was fixed about a decade ago.

“It’s in pretty good shape compete to what it used to be,” says Pepmeier, who indicates that he would like to see lights installed at the on-campus facility.

Pepmeier earned a business management degree from the University of Southern Indiana in 1996 and is married to 1994 Salem graduate Kandi. He is an agent with Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in Salem.

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The Pepmeiers (clockwise from bottom left): Jason, Kandi, Brandon and Brody. Jason Pepmeier is the head baseball coach at Salem (Ind.) High School. Brandon and Brody are two of his players. Jason and Kandi are both Salem graduates.

 

 

Knight teaching Clarksville Generals tradition, respect for the game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clarksville (Ind.) High School sports a robust baseball past.

The Generals earned plenty of IHSAA hardware in the 39 seasons that Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Wayne Stock was head coach.

Besides a State Finals appearance in 1971, Stock’s teams won 744 games with 20 Mid-Southern Conference titles, 12 sectional championships, five regional crowns and one semistate trophy.

Clarksville appears all over the IHSBCA record book.

The Generals hold single-season team marks in batting with 241 walks and pitching with 32 complete games — both in 1971.

The 1973 pitching staff racked up 428 strikeouts and posted a 0.73 earned run average, accomplishments which rank second and third, respectively. The 1968 team hurled 16 shutouts, which ranks tied for fifth.

Dan Gibson set a record for at-bats with 152 in 1971.

Joe McMahel (1995-98) had the most career at-bats with 459 while Matt James (1994-97) ranks fifth. McMahel and James (1994-97) are tied for 10th in career hits with 173 apiece.

D.J. Dewees stole 60 bases in 1992, the third-most in single-season state history.

Brad Turner (1993-96) enjoyed quite the Clarksville pitching career. He is second in starts (52), third in complete games (420), fourth in innings (356) and tied for fifth in shutouts (14).

Guy Finch (1975-78) is third in career shutouts (17), tied for fifth in career wins (43), tied for sixth in single-season strikeouts (199 in 1977) and eighth in career strikeouts (524).

Gary Melson (1968-71) is tied for seventh in career shutouts (13). The right-hander played at Middle Tennessee State University and was selected in the 15th round of the 1975 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. He pitched in the minors through 1981, spending part or all of three seasons in Triple-A.

Jeff Lentz (1965-68) is tied for seventh in career complete games (34).

Turning to defense, Rob Stockdale (1977-80) ranks first in putouts for a career (952) and single season (360 in 1977).

Steve Hartley (1984-87) is sixth in career infield putouts and assists excluding a first baseman (391).

Kelly Allen (1995-98) is ninth in career putouts (712).

Shayne Stock, Wayne’s son, used to be head coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. Wayne Stock once counted Chris McIntyre (New Albany High School head coach) as an assistant and Eric Stotts (Borden High School head coach) as a player.

Jamie Knight, who has coached at various levels since he was 18, is heading into his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater. The 1983 Clarksville graduate played for Stock and is trying to restore an expectation of excellence if not in quite the same old-school way that his coach did.

“He was definitely an influence on me,” says Knight. “He was a cross between Johnny Carson and Bobby Knight.

“He was a funny guy, but he’d certainly tell you when you weren’t doing things right.”

Knight founded the Floyds Knobs (Ind.) American Legion Post 42 baseball program and credits that experience, working with Ricky Romans (who is also head coach at Charlestown High School) for showing him how to handle the current generation of ballplayer.

After serving one season as junior varsity coach at Floyd Central, Knight took the reins at Clarksville for the 2014 season. The Generals had just 12 players in the entire program that first spring.

By the next year, participation had doubled and Knight re-established a JV team and the varsity earned the school’s first sectional title since 2003.

“Clarksville has been a strong baseball school,” says Knight. “When I got here it resembled nothing like that. I’ve tried to to bring that back — the respect for the game, tradition and doing things the right way.

“I’m a strong believer that if you do things the right way, act the right way and show respect for the game that will translate into wins and success

“The hardest part was to get the kids to believe they could reach that level again.”

Another sectional championship was claimed in 2018, beating Eastern (Pekin) in the Class 2A final at Clarksville’s Wayne Stock Field. The Generals’ season ended with a semifinal loss to North Posey at the Austin Regional.

Senior Dee Shelton, a lefty-swinging center fielder and righty-throwing pitcher, has committed to play baseball at Trine University.

Recent Clarksville graduates to move on to the college diamond include Ethan Cummings (Vincennes University), Seth Hamilton (Manchester University for baseball and football) and Nick Jones (Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, Ill.).

Clarksville is in a sectional grouping with Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin), Henryville, Lanesville and Paoli. The IHSAA success factor has moved Providence to 3A while Lanesville came up from 1A.

With an enrollment around 490, Clarksville is the second-smallest school in the Mid-Southern Conference (Austin is smallest at around 375). Other MSC members include Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Eastern (Pekin), North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek.

Knight’s 2019 assistants are Joel DeMoss (fourth season) and Nathan Kane (first season). His first two years at Clarksville, Knight took two former Indiana University Southeast players — Zach Adams and Carter Sibley — as assistants on the recommendation of Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel.

“I like having young coaches coming right from playing in college,” says Knight. “They bring knew drills and they can throw lots of batting practice.”

Adams went on to coach at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., while Sibley went to coach at Campbellsville (Ky.) University.

Clarksville Little League develops some players that will wind up at Clarksville. Others go to Jeffersonville, Providence or Silver Creek.

Former Generals base stealer Dewees is a regional director for the Clarksville/Louisville portion of the Rawlings Tigers travel organization.

Knight spent 25 years with Louisville Metro Police.

“This is kind of my second career,” says Knight of serving as head baseball coach and assistant to athletic director Levi Carmichael at Clarksville.

Knight signed out of high school to play tennis and baseball at Franklin College. When the men’s tennis season was moved from the fall to the spring, he stayed on the court instead of the diamond. He transferred to the University of Louisville and earned a degree in police administration.

Jamie and wife Debbie reside in Floyds Knobs and have been married almost 20 years. She is an occupational therapist.

“She’s fantastic,” says Jamie. “She allows me to coach.”

Jamie’s two sons are both former baseball players at Floyd Central.

Ryan Knight (28) played baseball and tennis for the Highlanders then signed at Franklin College. An injury kept him from playing. He is now a Sellersburg, Ind., police officer.

Patrick Knight (26) was a left-handed pitcher for two seasons at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.

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Jamie Knight, a 1983 Clarksville (Ind.) High School graduate, is the head baseball coach at his alma mater.

 

Accountability, camaraderie important to Wells and his Greencastle Tiger Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wells received a baseball foundation that he now uses as head coach at Greencastle (Ind.) High School.

Wells played four seasons at Owen Valley High School in Spencer, Ind., and two at the University of Indianapolis and applies what he learned in guiding the Greencastle Tiger Cubs.

As a third baseman and pitcher, Wells started on varsity as a freshman for head coach John Heckman at Owen Valley. It wasn’t a common practice at the school at that time.

“Age doesn’t really matter,” says Wells of the message being sent by his coach. “You put your best nine out there and go with it.”

After the spring of 1999, John Heckman turned the Patriots program after that season to his son, Trent Heckman.

“I I learned a lot about quality of practice and to work hard at all times,” says Wells of the Heckamans. Wells graduated from OV in 2002.

Gary Vaught, who retired after the 2018 season with 808 career victories and a pair of trips to the NCAA Division II World Series, passed on the importance of discipline to Wells in his two campaigns with the Greyhounds (2003 and 2004).

Vaught held his players accountable. They knew where they needed to be and when. If they failed to do so, there was a price. It could involve playing time or, perhaps, extra running or conditioning.

“Kids don’t understand that being a college athlete is a full-time job,” says Wells, who found that out first-hand. “I also picked up valuable techniques and skills I try to instill in my players today.”

Finishing his history eduction degree at UIndy in 2006, Wells had an idea that he would like to be a baseball coach. He is heading into his third season as Greencastle head coach in 2019 after four campaigns as an assistant.

Wells was junior varsity coach at Owen Valley in 2007 and an assistant at North Putnam High School in 2009 and 2010.

Greencastle belongs to the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam, Sullivan and West Vigo in the West Division and Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley in the East Division.

“We have one of the best 3A conferences in the state,” says Wells, noting that Northview was moved up to 4A via the IHSAA tournament success factor. “Our conference is pretty loaded.”

WIC games are played back-to-back weeknights. Only the first game counts toward conference standings.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” says Wells, who has indicated that prefers both games count.

After the intradivisional games, crossover games are played between the divisions (West No. 1 vs. East No. 1 and so on).

Non-conference foes include Cascade, Covenant Christian, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Monrovia and Tri-West Hendricks.

With about 550 students, Greencastle is the fourth-smallest 3A school in Indiana. The Tiger Cubs are in an IHSAA sectional with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Northwest and Tri-West Hendricks.

The schedule includes some varsity/junior varsity doubleheaders.

The one-day Putnam County tournament brings Greencastle, Cloverdale, North Putnam and South Putnam together for competition. The Tigers Cubs won the event in 2018.

What about the 2019 team?

“We have a pretty talented sophomore group,” says Wells, who expects to have number of players who played varsity as freshmen in last spring. Among those are Bryce Barger, Ethan Maier, Jordan Meyer, Nick Sutherlin and Brody Whitaker.

Seniors Alex Costin, Tanner Sanders and Trey Wood are also in the mix.

The Tigers Cubs have not yet had any college baseball commitments. Wood plans to attend Taylor University in Upland, Ind., to play football. Recent graduate Tanner Nicholson is on the baseball team at Franklin (Ind.) College.

Wellls’ assistant coaches are Greencastle head boys basketball coach Bryce Rector (who is also head JV baseball coach) and boys basketball assistant Craig Whitaker.

The Tiger Cubs play on-campus on a field that was recently added new infield dirt, clay mixture around home plate and upgrades for drainage.

“There’s still a lot more we want to do,” says Wells.

A seventh grade social studies teacher at Greencastle Middle School, Wells has the opportunity to get to know future players before they get to high school.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Wells. “I get a head start building relationships with those players.”

GMS, which serves Grades 6-8, has a baseball team. It is a club sport and not affiliated with Greencastle Community School Corporation.

“What we’ve lacked in the past is a feeder program,” says Wells. “When I grew up, Babe Ruth was the big thing. When we got to high school, we had known each other and played together since we were young.”

Such a system would build camaraderie and Wells would know what he had coming at the high school level.

“It’s something I’m trying to build,” says Wells. “We have not been able to get it pulled off yet.”

Greencastle is coming to the end of its fall baseball workouts. A new IHSAA rule allows coaches to practice with their teams for two hours two days a week during a certain period of time. The window closes after Oct. 12 and opens against the first week of December.

“I kind of like it,” says Wells. “I puts us all on a similar playing field. We’re a smaller school and have to share a lot of our athletes. (The rule) allows us to get as many guys together at once to throw and get in their cuts. It keep us in baseball shape throughout the year.

“It also helps us not burn out students on one thing.”

Ben and Kristen Wells have been married 11 years and have three children — 5-year-old son Lincoln and 3-year-old twin daughters Britain and Brooklyn.

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Greencastle (Ind.) High School won the 2018 Putnam County baseball tournament. Tiger Cubs with the hardware are (from left): assistant coach Bryce Rector, Gus Manion, assistant coach Craig Whitaker, Abe Wade, head coach Ben Wells and Jacob Harris.

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

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Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.

Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.

Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.

Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.

“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.

“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”

Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.

The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).

Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.

“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”

With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.

Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.

“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”

Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.

“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”

By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.

“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.

The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.

“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”

Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.

“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.

The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).

“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”

Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.

“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.

Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.

His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.

After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.

Or so he thought.

Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.

In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.

However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.

“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”

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Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)

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Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.

“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.

“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”

For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.

The 2017 Panthers will meet South Bend St. Joseph in the first game of the Class 3A Griffith Regional Saturday, June 3. The second semifinal pits Western against Glenn with the final at night.

Jennings respects St. Joe, coached by John Gumpf. The two met years ago when Jennings was working Notre Dame baseball camps and Gumpf was an Irish assistant to Paul Mainieri.

This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.

Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.

“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.

Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.

As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”

When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.

“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”

A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.

Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”

Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”

Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

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Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.

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