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Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

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Confidence is everything for Nadolny and his John Glenn Falcons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continual improvement.

That’s the goal of veteran baseball coach John Nadolny as he prepares players for his 17th season at John Glenn High School in St. Joseph County and 25th head-coaching campaign overall.

“‘Get better everyday.’ That’s what I say to these guys,” says Nadolny. “If you had a bad day today, tomorrow’s got to be better for you. Let’s find something positive in what you do everyday.

“This is such a mental game and confidence in high school is everything. You fail. You learn. You go on and get better.”

The coach knows that an average high school team with some confidence is going to be a superior team without confidence much of the time.

Nadolny wants his squad to improve as its progresses through fall ball to winter workouts to preseason indoor training to the first time they step outside in the spring. Then there’s the in-season adjustments.

“We get better at the year goes on every year,” says Nadolny. “We share a lot of kids athletically (at an IHSAA Class 3A school with an enrollment around 600). We don’t have a lot of travel baseball players. We’ve elevated some kids to a pretty good level.”

While Nadolny — aka “Nud” — will raise his voice when he deems it necessary, he is not the yeller and screamer he was as a younger coach — a result of mellowing with age and with the athletes he’s now coaching.

“Kids are a little bit more sensitive nowadays — to a point,” says Nadolny, a 1981 South Bend Riley graduate. “Not everybody is the same. I understand kids and I read kids now better than I ever did.

“We’ve had our success.”

In 24 years as a head coach (at both Riley and Glenn), Nadolny is 480-223. He has sent 36 players on to college baseball and had Josh Glenn (1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Andy Groves (2003 by the Kansas City Royals and 2007 by the Colorado Rockies) taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Four of Nadolny’s players have been chosen for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Glenn (1995) and Brian Stultz (1996) at Riley, Groves (2003) and Justin Gierlowski (2014; he did not play) at Glenn. Stultz was MVP of the series in Jasper.

Two of his former Glenn catchers —  the ones that he trusted to call all the pitches — are now college coaches. Doug Buysse is head coach at Indiana University South Bend and Adam Piortowicz is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Michigan University.

Nadolny has racked up eight sectional titles (1991 at Riley and 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2017 at Glenn). Besides the sectional crown in the first year as head coach, Nadolny took three straight Wildcat clubs to the sectional championship game.

Nadolny’s Falcons reigned at the Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2016 and 2017 and have all 23 pitching wins back for 2018.

There have been four regional championships (1991 at Riley and 2003, 2005 and 2006 at Glenn) one Final Four appearance (2003 at Glenn). The Falcons lost to eventual state runner-up Western in the regional semifinals in 2016 and eventual state champion South Bend St. Joseph in the regional finals in 2017.

“Those were awesome weekends when you had to win two in a day and there was no class system. No one remembers those anymore,” says Nadolny. “You might win three games in the sectional then two at regional, two at semistate and two at state. Those days are long gone. You had to have two really good pitchers.”

There’s also the eight conference titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 in the Northern State Conference and 2017 in the Northern Indiana Conference South Division — all at Glenn).

The 13-team NIC includes Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South Division and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North Division. Nadolny says seeing strong pitching day in and day out in the conference has helped the Falcons at state tournament time.

The long-time coach does not take all the credit for the winning.

“I’ve been good because I’ve had good assistants,” says Nadolny, who has Joe Gambill as a varsity assistant. Gambill has been with Nadolny for all but one of his seasons at Glenn. Leland Travis (third season) and Brad Laskowski (second season) lead the junior varsity Falcons. Denny Stull was Nadolny’s assistant in all nine of his years in charge at Riley.

Nadolny sees himself as the product of the people who taught him the game over the years. Some of the ways, he loved and adopted. Others, he did not and did not make a part of his program.

“As I decided I was going to be a coach and a teacher, I kind of picked and pecked from everybody,” says Nadolny. “Everybody did things differently and tried to get the same result.

“I’ve was fortunate enough to play and coach against (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame coaches like Ric Tomaszewski (South Bend Washington), Len Buczkowski (South Bend Adams) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay). They were all successful. Why wouldn’t I follow some of the things they’ve done? I took my personality and the way I feel about stuff and it all blended together.”

After playing for Jackson Middle School in ninth grade, Nadolny was a three-year varsity player for Ralph “Peanuts” Pieniazkiewicz at South Bend Riley High School and then played four seasons for Dick Patterson at Bethel College in Mishawaka.

“I learned a lot from Ralph. I learned discipline,” says Nadolny. “He was like a second father to me. I played for him and coached with him (1987-90) and took the Riley job when he left.

Nadolny grew to appreciate Pieniazkiewicz as the years unfolded.

“I got to understand him a little more about where he was coming from as I got older — like you do with anybody else,” says Nadolny. “As your life goes on you learn to see things through other people’s eyes and you step in their shoes a little bit.

“It’s the process of learning and living and coaching. As a player, you think you know everything.”

Nadolny drew some lessons about relationships from observing Patterson.

“He knew how to treat people,” said Nadolny. “One thing about him is that he let us play. We were pretty good.”

As a senior in 1986, pitcher/first baseman Nadolny played for a Bethel team that won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Pilots had to win three games on the last day of the double-elimination tournament, which meant Nadolny missed graduation exercises.

“That was probably the happiest day of my life,” says Nadolny. “Anytime you’re on the field with a chance to play is a good day.

“There were a lot of good ballplayers at Bethel.”

The Pilots had a roster filled with South Bend area talent.

Steve Hosinski (LaVille High School graduate) Kevin McNamara (Mishawaka Marian) were NCCAA All-Americans. BC’s all-Mid-Central Conference selections included Hosinski, McNamara, Scott Holland (Plymouth), Rick Romeo (Adams) and Joey Underwood (Jimtown).

Hosinski won a then-school record 13 games while striking out 103 batters in 99 1/3 innings in 1986. Romeo set a then-BC mark with 58 walks.

Nadolny established standards at the time with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His slugging percentage was .736 in 1986 and .623 for his college career. When he was a freshman, Scott Anderson (Penn) hit .469 — which still stands as the top single-season mark in Pilots history.

John first learned the game on the lots around his South Bend neighborhood and at South Bend Southside Little League, where his father Stanley became a fixture. Stanley and Betty Nadolny had five children — Cathy, Jackie, Steve, Rick and John. Steve is a member of the Manchester University Athletic Hall of Fame.

John learned from his big brothers and while playing for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and later in the Michiana adult league with the St. Joe AC’s.

After college, the youngest of the Nadolny offspring went into teaching in South Bend and became a Riley baseball assistant. He was with the Wildcats until 1999 then did some scouting before landing the coaching job at Glenn. He has also been a special education teacher at the school in Walkterton.

This fall, Nadolny has conducted optional open fields a couple times a week while planning a trivia night fundraiser. When fall ball wraps, work will begin in earnest on upgrades to the home and visiting dugouts.

At Glenn, it’s all about continual improvement.

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John Nadolny is heading into his 25th season as a high school head baseball coach in 2018. It will be his 17th at John Glenn in Walkerton, Ind. He started his career at his alma mater — South Bend Riley. He has 480 career victories. (Gregory Ladewski Photo)

 

 

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

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Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)

 

IU South Bend finding its way in second college baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Working through the growing pains that come with a new program, Indiana University South Bend is looking to make its mark on the NAIA baseball landscape.

In their second year and with Mike Huling in his first year as head coach, the Titans are on a quest to be competitive in the tough Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference this spring.

At the same time, IUSB looks to keep making progress as numbers and talent increases.

“It’s been a struggle, but right now we feel that we have the kinds of guys that we need moving forward,” says Huling, who was a Titans assistant in 2015-16. “They buy into our system. They believe in the vision that we have of winning baseball games.

“We want to play hard in our conference.”

The top two teams in the CCAC will earn an NAIA regional berth. Huling says the the teams to beat look to be Judson and Saint Francis (Ill.).

There are just five seniors — Trey Bickel (Mishawaka), Damon DeJesus (Fort Wayne), Luke Gaboury (South Bend), Chris Mangus (Niles, Mich.) and Sammy Nieves (Canovanas, P.R.) — on the IUSB current roster of 28 (down from around 45 at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year).

“Early in the season, we haven’t been good teammates and we’ve haven’t been playing for each other,” says Huling. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been trying to get them to buy into that type of thing because those things help you win baseball games. The good thing is we faced that adversity early when the games didn’t matter (before conference play). We feel we’re headed in the right direction.”

The Titans are off to a 9-10 start to the 2017 season, including 2-0 in the CCAC. An injury to right-hander Kyle Rago has depleted the pitching staff. Other hurlers have been asked to step forward and focus on throwing strikes.

“You definitely have to have pitching in this conference,” says Huling. “We play five conference games every week. We’re struggling to find five starting pitchers.”

Huling said details of a contract is being worked out to move to Newton Park in Lakeville and IUSB may be able to call that home within a few weeks.

The Titans have been practicing on and opened the season at South Bend’s School Field — a facility the Titans have been sharing with varsity and junior teams from South Bend Adams High School as well as Jefferson Intermediate School baseball and football.

“We had to juggle all those schedules,” says Huling. “Those are the kinds of things we had to deal with early on. It’s tough when we show up to the field and there’s a football practice in right field or we have to practice from 8 to 10 at night.”

As for the future, 17 recruits have already been signed for next season.

“We’re definitely excited about next year,” says Huling. “But I don’t believe in the ‘rebuilding year.’ We always want to compete every single year.”

Using his relationships while playing at the University of Southern Indiana (the Screaming Eagles won the NCAA Division II national title in 2010) and being an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Bowling Green State University has given Huling some recruiting ties around the country.

Huling says IUSB is able to pull some out-of-state student-athletes carrying a minimum 3.0 grade-point average to earn a Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship that brings fees close to in-state tuition.

Recruiting in the South Bend area has been adversely affected because of the field situation. Most Indiana recruits have come from he Indianapolis area, but there have been signees from California, Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

“There’s so much unseen talent in California and Texas, it’s crazy,” says Huling, who has family in California and couples visits with recruiting. “Believe it or not, some of these kids want to come to the Midwest. If a major Division I institution doesn’t offer them anything, they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Huling, a 2006 Mishawaka High School graduate, had to work hard to been noticed as a player. He earned a spot at NCAA Division I Illinois State University, where he redshirted before transferring and playing two seasons at Glen Oaks Community College before landing at Southern Indiana for two seasons (2010 and 2011). USI is coached by Tracy Archuleta.

“He is one of my mentors,” says Huling. “He was an under-the-radar guy as a coach as well. He’s win two NCAA Division II national championships at the Midwest school (USI also won it all in 2014). I’ve learned a lot from him. Just his whole demeanor, strategy, on-the-field, off-the-field, discipline — all that sort of stuff.

The spring marks Huling’s third coaching in the NAIA. He was an assistant at NAIA Holy Cross College in 2015 before that program folded and he moved over to join the brand new IUSB program.

His coaching staff includes NAIA veteran Jon Koepf, who a graduate assistant the last two seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). Koepf played for former major league pitcher Len Barker at NCAA Division II Notre Dame College.

Other IUSB assistants include Matt Schwitz, who pitched at Holy Cross, and Chris Woodruff, who played outfield at Holy Cross and IUSB. Schwitz, who was also an assistant at IUSB in 2016, played at South Bend St. Joseph High School and Woodruff at Adams.

If he has his way, the NAIA will fall in line with the NCAA and do away with the re-entry rule and courtesy runners.

“It’s kind of like high school rules,” says Huling.

MIKEHULING

Mike Huling is in his second season on the Indiana University South Bend baseball coaching staff — his first as head coach. He is a Mishawaka High School graduate.