Tag Archives: IHSBCA Hall of Fame

Fort Wayne’s Wildcat League going strong in 59th year

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Instilling a love for and the fundamentals of the game.

That’s what the Wildcat Baseball League has been doing in the Fort Wayne area for decades.

In its 59th year in 2019, the youth league founded by Dale McMillen Sr. aka “Mr. Mac” where “everybody makes the team” has instruction and competition going on at 10 sites: Aboite (Summit Middle School), Arlington (Arlington Elementary School), Blackhawk (Blackhawk Middle School), Foster (Foster Park), Hamilton (Hamilton Park), Leo (Leo Junior/Senior High School), New Haven (Havenhurst Park), Northside (Northside Park), St. Joe (St. Joe Baseball Complex) and Wallen (Wallen Baseball Complex).

While the season is already underway with about 1,400 participants, players can still sign up at area sites. There is no cost to play Wildcat. Players provide their own glove. The rest is covered by the league.

Divisions are Kitten (6-8), Kitty (9-11), Kat (11-14) and Tiger (14-15).

“We’re flexible,” says Wildcat League president Bill Derbyshire of the age divisions. “We try to make it comfortable for the kids.”

That’s in keeping with the spirit of Wildcat.

“The fundamental principle is that we give all the kids a chance to play. They get to play without the fear of being intimidated or embarrassed.

“We teach baseball skills in an atmosphere of ‘you can do this.’”

Derbyshire, who first became involved with the Wildcat League as a director at Kekionga in 1969 and went on to coach baseball for 17 seasons at Fort Wayne Elmhurst High School (the field at that site bears his name) and has been league president since 2004, says a common memory for coaches is that of seeing youngsters get their first hit or catch their first fly ball.

The annual “Mr. Mac Day” brings together Wildcat Leaguers for fun and competition. This year it is scheduled for July 12 at Kreager Park. There are all-star games, relays and contests like hitting off a tee, accuracy throw, distance throw and baserunning.

Weekly clinics cover pitching, hitting, infield and outfield play, baserunning, “Mr. Mac Day” fundamentals and sportsmanship.

This year, there are 45 on-site staffers and five in the office at 1302 E. Creighton Ave.

Jack Massucci has served Wildcat baseball for more than 50 years and is currently vice president. He coached 37 seasons at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School and is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Gerry Tilker also has a Wildcat tenure nearing a half century and now serves as commissioner. He was also head coach at Elmhurst.

Gary Rogers is assistant commissioner and league fundamentalist. He is a former Wildcat site director. He coached 32 seasons at Fort Wayne Luers High School and just completed his second at Leo.

Derbyshire, Massucci, Tilker and Rogers are all in the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame.

To register or for more information, contact Wildcat Baseball at 260-456-5821.

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Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League, where “everyone makes the team,” is in its 59th year in 2019.

 

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Wisemans, South Central Rebels enjoying the ride

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They’re making baseball memories at a tiny school in southern Indiana.

Led by father and son co-coaches Brad and Alex Wiseman, the South Central (Elizabeth) Rebels have won the IHSAA Class 1A Shawe Memorial Sectional and are getting ready for the two-hour trek to the Loogootee Regional (South Central plays No. 9-ranked Tecumseh at 11 a.m., followed by Trinity Lutheran vs. No. 6 Barr-Reeve with the championship at 7:30 p.m.).

South Central spotted Borden four runs in the first two innings and trailed 6-2 after four frames in the sectional championship before winning 10-8 and earning a ride on the Elizabeth Volunteer Fire Department’s truck when they got back from Madison to Harrison County.

“It’s a good memory for the boys — something they’ll never forget,” says Alex Wiseman, who played for the Rebels and graduated from South Central in 2012 before pitching for Hanover (Ind.) College. “South Central baseball is a tradition around here. Everybody knows about it.”

The team mugged for the championship photo wearing the green “Hank Strong” T-shirts that they donned in a benefit game for Hank Sutherland, a young boy in the community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

Kim Wiseman enjoys being at the park about as much as husband Brad and son Alex.

“She’s the epitome of a baseball mom,” says Brad Wiseman. “Alex is 25 and baseball has been a part of our lives for 22 years.

“(Kim) is just as excited to see a Cincinnati Reds game or a T-ball game.”

Alex and wife Leslie have a son — Maverick (1).

Will the boy be a ballplayer?

While sitting for her grandson, Kim got a fat lip when a baseball was thrown harder than she anticipated.

The younger Wiseman has watched the South Central team develop a “grind-it-out mentality.”

The turning point in the season came May 7 at South Central’s Donald L. Dones Field. That’s when the Rebels rallied from a five-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Austin 10-9. The Eagles scored all nine runs in the first two innings.

“That opened the eyes of the boys,” says Alex Wiseman of the comeback against a team that will compete in Saturday’s 2A Southridge Regional. “It shows they can accomplish a lot.”

South Central (enrollment around 215) part of the South Harrison Community School Corporation, which also includes Corydon Central High School (3A).

The Rebels belong to the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, Lanesville and New Washington).

The top three finishers in the 2019 SAC pennant race were Henryville (5-0), Lanesville (4-1) and South Central (3-2).

The Rebels are part of a sectional grouping with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington and Shawe Memorial.

Brad Wiseman, who was a South Central junior varsity coach from 2014-17 before being joined by Alex to lead the Rebels beginning with the 2018 season, saw the team take an 11-16 regular-season into the postseason before beating Christian Academy and Borden for the program’s seventh sectional title (all since 2005).

“We were very aggressive (about playing all scheduled contests),” says Brad Wiseman. “We knew we needed as much game experience as we could get to get us ready for this part of the season.”

The Rebels took on 3A teams like Providence and Silver Creek (ranked No. 10 and the 2018 2A state runners-up) and 2A’s Lanesville.

“We really see the difference, especially in the sophomores,” says Alex Wiseman of the strong competition. “The game is coming a lot easier to them.”

Says Brad Wiseman, “We get overlooked because of our record. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Various factors, including injuries, left South Central’s sophomore-heavy roster with 16 players and many junior varsity games were canceled.

The Rebels’ top pitchers are junior Zach Needler, sophomore Frank Goodman and seniors Wyatt Crosier, Bryce Lewis and Will Weber. All but Weber are right-handers.

Crosier, junior Austin Tyree and sophomores Wes Wilson and Stephen Sawicki are offensive leaders.

The Wisemans are assisted by Jeff Riley and Jeff Skaggs.

Dones Field has seen upgrades in the past decade and more are on the way. New dugouts and backstop fencing was added around 2010. Since then, the Rebels have gained an indoor hitting facility, turf was placed around home plate and new bullpens and more fencing is coming in the near future.

South Harrison Athletic Corporation (SHAC) is a feeder system, training players from age 4 through eighth grade in the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken system.

The Wisemans maintain a relationship with junior high coaches to make sure those players are prepared for high school baseball. The younger boys are invited to serve as managers for the older ones and experience the culture.

Brad Wiseman is a 1986 graduate of Castle High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Rabe.

“He was very insistent on the fine details,” says Brad Wiseman of Rabe. “You knew where you needed to be on the field at all times.”

Alex Wiseman’s coach at South Central was Nick Tremain (now head coach at Lawrenceburg).

“He was very much about the mental approach to the game,” says Alex Wiseman. “We played with a swagger. We expected to win. If you take that attitude, not a lot of teams are going to beat you.

“These are values we’ve tried to instill in the boys. Believe you can do it and you will get there if you put in the work.”

Work away from baseball happens in nearby Kentucky for both father and son. Brad Wiseman is a manager at Equian, a pre-bill medical recovery company. Alex Wiseman is a revenue analyst with Louisville Physicians Group.

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Father and son co-coaches Brad (right) and Alex Wiseman celebrate an IHSAA sectional baseball championship for South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School.

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With co-coach Brad Wiseman toward the front, the South Central Rebels got to ride an Elizabeth (Ind.) Volunteer Fire Department truck after winning the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title.

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The South Central (Elizabeth) Junior/Senior High School Rebels won the 2019 IHSAA Shawe Memorial Sectional baseball title. The team is wearing its “Hank Strong” T-shirts in support of Hank Sutherland, a boy in their community dealing with Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome.

Veteran coach Rogers enjoys having a diamond to call his own with Leo Lions

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Rogers finally is in charge of a baseball facility where he gets first dibs.

In 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School, Rogers did not have an on-campus field and shared diamonds around the Summit City.

At various times, the Knights practiced at Tillman Park and played games at McMillen Park, Concordia Seminary and Indiana Tech.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store with my own field,” says Rogers, who is in his second season at Leo Junior/Senior High School in 2019.

Rogers landed at Leo as a guidance counselor when Harding High School closed as a high school, but continued to coach at Luers.

When Dave Boyce stepped away and left an opening at the top of the Lions program, Rogers took the opportunity to coach at the same place where he works during the day.

Having his own diamond is a big plus. Leo is the lone tenant at a field that has seen plenty of upgrades since Rogers took over.

“The kids have really worked hard on this field in the two years that I’ve been here,” says Rogers. “We’re still not done.”

Leo’s baseball field has two new hitting tunnels on the third base side with excess turf from the football field.

Last year, 80 tons of infield dirt material was brought in. The mound was re-built. Using 40 more tons of material, the warning track was extended around Thanksgiving time.

Also last fall, lips were cut out, new sod was planted and the home plate area was lifted.

“Your field is a reflection of your program,” says Rogers. “I’ve always felt that way.”

Rogers is a 1974 graduate of Merrillville (Ind.) High School and he saw how much tender loving care Pirates coach Bill Metcalf put into his field.

“He was always on the field doing something and we wondered what he was doing,” says Rogers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “Now, I understand that really well.”

He got a chance to plenty of work on the field at Indiana Tech for coaches Lance Hershberger, Steve Devine and Kip McWilliams.

With just one gym at Luers, the location of indoor workouts was not a certainty for Rogers and his teams. It may still get crowded, but there is a main gym and auxiliary available at Leo Junior/Senior, a part of East Allen County Schools.

Leo carries a brand resembling that of the “South Side Hitmen” era of Chicago baseball, a device devised by Boyce and kept by Rogers.

“I love that logo because I’m a White Sox guy,” says Rogers.

The coach considers himself to be “old school.”

“Everybody wears the uniform the same,” says Rogers. “We’re either all up (with the socks) or all down. We ask them to get haircuts. Those are my things.

“As for the baseball, we always work and always hustle. We want to be the first ones on the field and the first ones off the field. We want to get after every ball.

“I’m trying to teach the game the right way. I disagreed with Bryce Harper when he said there is no right way to play the game. I believe there is.”

One former player really took the Rogers’ insistence on hustle.

While he grew physically after high school and was very talented athletically, Kevin Kiemaier worked his way to the major leagues. He is now the starting center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rogers cherishes the memory of visiting Kiemaier while he was in rookie ball and him telling his former coach, “the rays like me because I’m a program guy. That serves me well.”

A three-sport athlete at Luers (football, basketball and baseball), Kiemaier demonstrated his athleticism while on the mound in the 2008 South Bend Semistate championship game against Boone Grove. A ball was smashed up the middle and Kiermaier stabbed it behind his back.

“He doesn’t make that play if he’s not an athlete,” says Rogers.

Winning pitcher Kiermaier led off and hurled the first five innings before going to shortstop as Luers beat Elwood 14-9 to win the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2008. That capped a school year in which the Knights also took state crowns in football and basketball.

Besides the state championship, Rogers-coached Luers baseball squads won four sectionals, one regional and one semistate.

He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and has earned district COTY honors twice.

Very involved in the Fort Wayne diamond community, Rogers has been part of Wildcat Baseball League since former Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci asked him to help more than three decades ago. He started as director at Northwood Middle School, moved to St. Joe Little League then took on an administrative role.

Rogers is on the board for the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

The 2019 NEIBA banquet is May 19. Mike Nutter, Mike Marchesano and Mike Frame are all to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Spearheaded by Rogers and Carroll High School assistant Brett Windmiller, the organization will present at Northeast Indiana High School Player of the Year award.

Rogers played at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and graduated in 1978. He was a sophomore when Dave Goodmiller (now head coach at Norwell High School) was a senior. The two went on the play together in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League with Blackie’s Rib Corral and Mexican Joe’s. Rogers was the head coach for the North for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series at Notre Dame in 2008. Dave Goodmiller was an assistant and his son, Rhett Goodmiller, played in the game.

On April 23, 2019, Rogers earned career victory No. 500 against Norwell.

Rogers was an assistant to Don Hummel at New Haven and Larry Gerardo at Luers before taking over that program.

The 2018 Leo squad went 19-8. The 2019 team was 18-3 through May 13.

Alex Bireley, Christian Brubaker, Chase Chaney, Ryan Hackworth, Chance McMaken, Tyler Parker and A.J. Restivo are seniors on the current Leo squad. Hackworth has committed to play baseball at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

Recent Leo graduates to move on to college ball are Easton Embry (Earlham College), Lukas Kline (Franklin College) and Max Minich (Kankakee Community College).

Rogers’ assistants are Brent Davis, Brian Turner and Jim Sickafoose with the varsity and Tom Miller and Mitch Meinholtz with the junior varsity. Davis is a New Haven graduate. Turner went to Fort Wayne Snider and played for Indiana Tech when Hershberger was a head coach and Rogers an assistant. Sickafoose is a former Central Noble head coach. There are 33 players in the program in 2019.

Leo (enrollment around 975) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell).

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, New Haven and Columbia City. Leo has earned eight sectional crowns — the last in 2012.

Besides various travel teams, Leo Grabill Little League serves as a feeder program for the Lions.

Gary and Jackie Rogers have three daughters — Melissa, Emily and Katie — and five grandchildren.

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Gary Rogers is in his second season as head coach at Leo Junior/Senior High School after 32 seasons at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers.

Hardy coaches Irvington Prep Ravens in baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A relationship that began with the diamond has gone much deeper.

Davon Hardy is the third-year head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Hardy teaches his youngsters how to play the game. But the teaching and the mentoring to does not end with a game or practice.

“I’m very involved with the boys,” says Hardy. “I’m not just a coach between the lines. I’m their coach all the time.

“I’ll help in any way.”

Hardy has his own remodeling business and he has some of his players help with cleaning up job sites, painting, drywalling and other handy skills.

“It keeps them out of trouble,” says Hardy. “We’re constantly stressing the importance of being a good person.

“It’s God, family, baseball and the classroom. It’s the total package.”

For players wishing to go to college, he will do what he can to make that happen.

“I’ll help in getting them tutoring,” says Hardy. “We stress the student-athlete.”

Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson, who lives in Fishers, Ind., came by practice last week to talk about faith, family and baseball with the IPA crew.

Hardy has watched his players come so far in the time he has been at Irvington Prep.

“Now that my (original class of) freshmen are juniors, I’m seeing a pay-off,” says Hardy. “That’s my satisfaction.

“That’s a W in my book.”

The inner-city high schools in Indy include Indianapolis Public Schools Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Washington. Besides Irvington Prep, others include Herron, Howe, Manual, Providence Cristo Rey, Purdue Poly and Tindley. This spring, Howe and Washington did not field a baseball team.

What is now known as Irvington Prep Academy opened in 2006 as Irvington Community High School. The original location was on East Pleasant Parkway and is now home to Irvington Community Middle School on East Pleasant Run Parkway. IPA is housed in the former Children’s Guardian Home on University Avenue.

Baseball and softball teams play about three miles away in Irvington Park on Raymond Street.

Hardy was an 18U regional all-star coach for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program last summer. The squad went unbeaten in Pittsburgh and lost to Cleveland in Detroit.

Before landing at Irvington Prep, Hardy was an assistant to Jerry Giust at Broad Ripple.

The IPA Ravens went against the Broad Ripple Rockets a couple times before the latter IPS high school was closed.

Giust was the one who suggested that Hardy look into becoming a head coach.

“He knew I had been around the game for a long time and saw the enthusiasm I approach the game with and my knowledge,” says Hardy of Giust. “I loved him for it.”

Hardy graduated from Broad Ripple in 1997 after moving from South Bend, where he grew up. He went to South Bend Washington High School for three years and was drawn to swimming to fight his asthma. He was also drawn to baseball. He competed in summer ball before leaving for Indianapolis. Washington’s varsity and junior varsity both won summer titles.

“I loved the way the game was broken down,” says Hardy, who played as a sophomore and junior in a program then led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski, who learned much from South Bend coaching legends like Jim Reinebold and Len Buczkowski and LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber.

“The knowledge T gave us was phenomenal,” says Hardy. “He told us everybody has a job to do.”

Players at each position were supposed to know the duties of the other players on the diamond.

When his schedule allows, Hardy plans to return to his hometown to help Mark Haley at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and with South Bend Cubs Foundation youth baseball activities.

Irvington Prep (enrollment around 310) charted a 2019 schedule with Anderson Prep Academy, Arsenal Tech, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Liberty Christian, Morristown, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian, Triton Central and Waldron.

Rain in the first half of the season means IPA will be trying to make up many games leading up to the postseason.

The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown and Triton Central. Irvington Prep has been competing in the tournament since 2013 and has not won a sectional title.

Hardy and fiancee Sandi have been together for seven years. They have one child together — Isaiah. He has three other children (Josiah, Iyanah and Ariyana) and she has two (Sylvanna and Gianna). Josiah plans to play baseball next year at Herron.

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Davon Hardy (foreground) is the head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis.

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Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson delivers the baseball during an Irvington Prep Academy practice.

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Former major leaguer Justin Masterson visited coach Davon Hardy and his Irvington Prep Academy baseball team to talk about faith, family and the game.

 

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)

 

Twin Lakes’ Burton has been coaching with discipline for four decades

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Burton has not changed the way he coaches much in more than four decades of leading high school baseball programs in Indiana.

Modeling his style after men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber and Lafayette Jeff’s Paul “Spider” Fields, Burton decided discipline would be the cornerstone of his teams.

“We’re demanding,” says Burton, who is in his 41st season of doing things his way — third at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello in 2019 after 37 at McCutcheon (1979-2015) in Lafayette and one at North Newton (2016) in Morocco. “The kid has to make sacrifices. We don’t allow long hair. It has to be an inch above the collar and off the ear.

“If they miss a practice unexcused, it’s a 20-mile run. You don’t play again until you get done.”

Burton hasn’t wavered from that approach since his first game in 1979.

“People say that’s crazy, but we’ve eliminated problems because kids don’t take a chance,” says Burton. “They don’t test you on those things. They know we mean business. We’ve not changed that.

“Not that these things make the program, but they establish a culture for the program.”

With 849 career wins coming into this week, Burton is second among active high school baseball coaches in Indiana (behind Andrean’s Dave Pishkur). He was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and became just the fourth Indiana prep baseball coach to do into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.

Twin Lakes (enrollment around 820) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Twin Lakes, Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Rensselaer Central and West Lafayette in the West Division and Hamilton Heights, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Tipton and Western in the East Division).

A two-game home-and-home series on consecutive nights is played within the division. Crossover games are then played with corresponding seeds in each division — 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and son on.

The Indians opened the 2019 season with a trip to Tennessee, where they met Halls, West Carroll and Tipton-Rosemark Academy (2018 Tennessee state runner-up among private schools).

“It was a good experience for us,” says Burton.

A year ago, a team rule was made that players could be away at the beginning of spring break through Tuesday and had to be back on Wednesday in order to travel to Tennessee and be ready to open the conference season against Lafayette Central Catholic.

Other non-conference opponents include Crawfordsville, Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Frontier, Kankakee Valley, Lafayette Jeff, Maconaquah, McCutcheon, North Newton, North White and Tri-County.

The Indians are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Wheeler. Twin Lakes has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 1993.

Twin Lakes was off to an 11-5 start in 2019, including 5-1 in the HAC.

“I think we’ve turned the corner a little bit,” says Burton. “We are winning games that we should win and competing well in all our games except for a couple.

“The kids seem to be confident that they can win. When I first got here that didn’t exist.”

Burton started out with 32 players in the program his first year and had 18 in the second season after some weeding out.

“They weren’t here for the real reason you play baseball,” says Burton. “You play sports to get better at it and enjoy the camaraderie, but also enjoy the competition.

“They were doing it as if it was just something to do rather than something they wanted to do.”

Retired as a school administrator, when he’s not serving as a substitute at Twin Lakes, Burton likes to play golf or pickleball before coming to the school.

Pickleball is a paddle-and-ball game similar to tennis played to 11. When he and his partner got down 10-1, the partner started talking about asking their opponent for a rematch. Burton wasn’t willing to concede defeat. He knew the game wasn’t over until one team got to 11.

Burton recalls a day in1984 at McCutcheon when his team was down 10-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.

The coach began pulling out his starters and telling them to get something to eat and be back for the second game.

Meanwhile, the subs started hitting doubles and singles and — all of a sudden — in was 10-10. The Mavericks went on to win.

“Baseball is a unique game,” says Burton. “There is no clock and that’s the neatest thing about it.”

There are 22 players for varsity and junior varsity in 2019 and the number is expected to rise.

“We’re building it back up,” says Burton, who had five seniors in 2017, three in 2018 and has four in 2019 (Zion Cosgray, Brock Deno, Graham Howe and Ethan Luzadder). The Indians have nine freshmen.

Burton is assisted by Brian Driver, Mike Hirt, Sam McVady, Jeremy Stinson and Trent Wright.

Pitching coach Driver played for Burton at McCutcheon in the early 1990’s and has coached with Burton at McCutcheon, North Newton and Twin Lakes. Wright serves as the first base coach. Hirt, McVady and Stinson are JV coaches. McVady played for Burton at Twin Lakes.

Since arriving, Burton has watched the Indians’ home field get a new drainage system. A new outfield was installed and leveled.

“We really take care of the field,” says Burton. “We make sure it’s immaculate and things are put away each night.

“We just take a little pride. You can play on a good field and get nice, new uniforms and kids start to feel a little bit better about themselves. It’s something that’s contagious and it spreads and we play a little bit better.”

Monticello Youth Baseball League — a part of the Town & Country system — develops players that will eventually get a chance to wear Twin Lakes uniforms.

Burton says the change from a single class to class sports is the biggest change he’s witnessed in his time coaching baseball in Indiana.

“I never was in favor of class baseball,” says Burton. “I liked it when you had one true champion.”

When McCutcheon was a state runner-up during the one-class system in 1994 it meant as much to Burton as when the Mavericks won 4A state titles in 1999 and 2003.

The 1994 state championship game was won 4-3 by Penn, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“That game hinged on one play in the top of the seventh,” says Burton. “We got our 2-hole and or 3-hole hitter on and our clean-up guy, Preny Rodgriguez had just hit one off the wall the last time up.

“We were down 4-2. Do we bunt here? I let him swing away and he hits into a double play. The next batter get a base hit to make it one run but we don’t get two.

“That’s just a decision a coach makes. It happens all the time.”

Burton was a Purdue University student at a time when Indiana coaching legends were still on the scene.

“Things have changed. Ken Schreiber, Jim Reinebold, Bill Jones, Paul “Spider” Fields — they set the tone on how baseball should be coached and played. I was lucky enough to be young enough to be going through college and seeing that.

“You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see people putting in the time like that.”

Burton’s teams have held the No. 1 statewide ranking four times and knocked off No. 1 on 10 occasions. His squads have been state ranked in 33 of his first 40 seasons.

He has coached 23 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selections and a pair of Indiana Mr. Baseballs Clayton Richard (2003) and Logan Sowers (2014).

Six former players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including big leaguers Richard in 2005 and Nick Wittgren in 2009.

Burton has had 84 players play college baseball (10 are still active) with 10 first-team all-staters and 150 all-conference selections.

He’s sent former assistants/players have gone on to become high school coaches in Indiana.

Burton was chosen Indiana Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2003 and was runner-up in the balloting in 1994. He has been a conference coach of the year 13 times and a regional coach of the year eight times.

He has amassed 15 conference championships, 11 sectional title, five regional crowns and twice claimed semistate hardware.

In Burton’s one season at North Newton, the Spartans went 20-9 and won the program’s first conference championship in 26 years.

Jake and Brenda Burton have been married 47 years and have three children — Mike, R.J. and Beth — and seven grandchildren. Teacher Mike (Class of 1993) and project engineer R.J. (1995) played baseball at McCutcheon for their father. Teacher Beth in a 1999 McCutcheon graduate. Jake is currently a Tippecanoe School Corporation board member.

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Jake Burton is in his third season as a high school baseball head coach in Indiana in 2019. It’s his third season at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello.