Tag Archives: Lake Central

Fun important part of baseball for Mikolajczyk, Munster Mustangs

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

As part of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan’s coaching staff at Munster High School, Mike Mikolajczyk saw the importance of keeping the sport fun for players.
“You’ve got to be loose,” says Mikolacjzyk, who enters his 24th year in the program and first as head coach in 2022. Only IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Niksic and Shinkan have held that title before Mikolajczyk, who was Mustangs freshmen coach for 20 seasons and varsity assistant for three.
He is a 1989 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, Ill., where he played four years of baseball for Braves coach Tom Johnson and earned all-conference and all-area honors as a junior and senior and was a team captain. He spent a half year with the baseball team at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Teaching from Purdue University Calumet and a master’s degree in Arts and Language Arts from Governors State University.
Mikolajczyk (Mick-O-Lie-Check) teaches sixth grade Reading and Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster.
In 2021, the Mustangs were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central and Merrillville (host). Munster won its 13th sectional title — the first since 2016.
“We have 11 guys coming back from last year’s team,” says Mikolajczyk. “We will be pretty senior strong.”
The Class of 2022 includes right-hander Brady Ginaven (Indiana State University commit), left-hander Jake Thometz (uncommitted) and right-hander Will Moell (Johns Hopkins University commit) at the top of the mound rotation.
“I’m pretty excited about our top three pitchers,” says Mikolajczyk. “I could put those guys against anybody in northwest Indiana and we’ll be competitive.”
Another key senior is outfielder/first baseman Tyler Lukowski. Juniors drawing D-I attention are outfielder Kozy Denham and outfielder/shortstop Kevin Hall.
Recent graduates moving on to college ball include 2020 graduates in right-hander Costa Sirounis (Indiana University), right-hander Will Melby (Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs) and infielder Ronnie Nowak (Marshalltown, Iowa, Community College). From 2021, there’s right-hander/third baseman and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Bryce Schaum (Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.), second baseman/catcher Ben Greiner (DePauw University) and middle infielder/outfielder Derrick Wiening (Purdue Northwest).
Munster (enrollment around 1,600) is located in Lake County and a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell).
The Mustangs plan to field three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen — in 2022 — and Mikolajczyk estimates there will be 45 to 50 in the program. The first time Munster had paid assistants was four years ago.
Mikolajczyk’s assistants include Matt Backs, volunteers Brian Boliek and Adam Musielak with the varsity, Mark Dye with the JV and an as-yet-to-be-named freshmen coach.
Backs, who coached one year at Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., and 27 years as Munster JV coach, will handle infielders and outfielders and coach first base. The Illinois State University graduate is a Project Lead The Way teacher at Wilbur Wright.
Boilek, who enters his fifth year on the staff who has more than two decades experience of coaching travel and American Legion ball, is a bench coach and handles strength and conditioning. He works in banking and finance.
Musielak was head coach for six years at Whiting (Ind.) High School and took the Oilers to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2019. He has 10 years of coaching experience for baseball, basketball and football. The Indiana University alum teaches Physical Education at Munster.
Dye is a Munster graduate who played at Earlham College In Richmond, Ind., and served a freshmen coach at Portage (Ind.) High School for six years. He teaches Social Studies at Munster. Infielders and catchers will be part of Mikolajczyk’s responsbilities.
Munster had 10 IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in September and early October with nearly 60 participants (not involved in fall sports). There were open fields and gyms with activity on Mike Niksic Field (which has a turf infield and grass outfielder), diamonds at Community Park, located next to the school and the home to Munster Little League and Munster Babe Ruth or the turfed football field.
“In fall workouts, we get an idea of who’s really dedicated to you and who’s not,” says Mikolajczyk.
An off-season weight program is baseball-specific and is geared toward flexibility and mobility.
“What we’re trying to emphasize is bigger, faster, stronger,” says Mikolajczyk. “We’re not trying to bulk up. It’s about maintenance and an injury-prevention type of thing.”
For the first time in program history, a 500-pound club (total for bench press, clean and jerk and deadlift) has been established to promote bonding and buy-in. Just before break, all 13 who attempted to qualify for a club made it and got a T-shirt. Qualifying is planned again in January and February.
Mikolajczyk says strength and conditioning training has drawn 30 to 35 participants each time without freshmen.
Little League (T-ball to age 12) and Babe Ruth (13-15) feed players to Munster High School. Several players are in travel ball with Morris Baseball, which is run by alum Bobby Morris.
Hal Morris, Bobby’s brother, is a Munster graduate who made it to the big leagues primarily as a first baseman (1988-2000) and is also in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. More recently, outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University (2014-17) and is now in the Chicago White Sox organization.
The Manous brothers — right-hander Connor (Class of 2016) and outfielder Garrett (Class of 2019 — were both on the IU roster in 2021.
An avid golfer, Mikolajczyk is a 7-handicap on the links. He also enjoys hunting. He lives in Frankfort, Ill., with significant other Maribel Soto Piccinini. She has a son named Troy (26).
Tanya Mikolajczyk, who was married to Mike, died of colon cancer in 2019.

Mike Mikolajczyk with 2021 sectional trophy earned by Munster (Ind.) High School.
Mike Mikolajczyk (left) and Maribel Soto Piccinini.

Nelson returns to his roots with Portage Indians

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

Doug Nelson came home to teach and coach.
Following a stint at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., Nelson is now teaching health and coaching freshmen boys basketball and is the new head baseball coach at Portage (Ind.) High School. He graduated from the school in 1992.
“I enjoyed Kankakee Valley,” says Nelson, who was making the 45-minute commute from Portage to KV. “Great people. Very good facilities. They’re growing.
“This is just home to me.”
Nelson played baseball at Portage for Tom Levandoski, who died Aug. 26, 2021.
“That touched home with me,” says Nelson. “He meant a lot to me.”
Nelson took the basketball job first when good friend Bryon Clouse was hired as Indians head coach in that sport.
The baseball opportunity came later and Nelson took it for a chance to coach with son Nathan Ramian. The 2011 Portage graduate played four years of baseball for the Indians and is now Web Coordinator for Portage Township Schools. He will coach varsity infielders.
Other Nelson assistants include varsity pitching coach John Selman, junior varsity head coach Mike Bruner, JV assistant Dallas Milligan, freshman head coach Derek Logsdon and freshman assistants Bryan Bernacki and Tommy Mosley.
Selman was on the previous Portage staff. Bruner is a Portage and Purdue Northwest grad.
Milligan went to Chesterton. He has a journalism degree with an emphasis in sports broadcasting from the University of Kansas. He has worked for the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs, ESPN and Fox Sports. He is a radio and video production teacher at the Porter Career Center while working toward a masters in communication at Purdue Northwest.
Logsdon brings four decades of experience in coaching youth baseball in northwest Indiana. He graduated from Hobart High School and played football at Franklin College.
Bernacki teaches Business at Portage and is schooled in analytics.
Mosley finished his college playing career at Calumet College of Saint Joseph in Whiting, Ind.
Doug is married to Ann Marie and has a younger son named Kale Nelson, who is a senior at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
Nelson, who has a career diamond record of 166-91, was able to work with the Indians on the diamond during the fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period.
“I got to meet some of the guys and see them throw and hit,” says Nelson. “We had good numbers (35 to 40 at each session).”
And that’s not including athletes in fall sports.
When strength training sessions before school began, participation was also high.
“Quite a few of them have committed themselves to what we’re trying to do in the weight room — not just for baseball but for health reasons,” says Nelson. “This winter has been great (with 40 to 45 players per practice) and we’re beginning in the (batting) cage.
“Guys in college have come back to talk to guys about hitting or life after high school. Being a Portage grad myself, it’s gratifying to see that.”
Alums who went on to college baseball in recent years include Scottie Hansen at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., Danny Puplava at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and Xavier Rivas at the University of Indianapolis.
Josh Ortiz (Class of 2022) recently committed to Purdue Northwest.
“We’re relatively young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” says Nelson.
Portage (enrollment around 2,400) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Valparaiso).
DAC games are played as home-and-home series on back-to-back days — mostly Tuesday and Wednesday.
In 2021, the Indians were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell and Valparaiso. Portage has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2013.
To re-establish a feeder system, Nelson plans to meet with leadership in Portage Township to establish a program.
“We’re going to make it happen,” says Nelson. “There’s too many people not playing in the summer.
“We’re going to get that corrected.”
Plans also call for a middle school program to play games in the fall. While there is no middle school baseball in the DAC, Porter County Conference schools do have it and are likely Portage opponents.
“We’re in a time where you have to recruit your kids to stay at your own school,” says Nelson. “We have to do a better job of keeping them here in Portage. That starts with middle school baseball.”
The program will allow players to get onto the bigger diamond and use drop-three bats while playing on the same team with other Portage students.
“We can show the parents that we care of (their child’s) development and well-being.”

Ann Marie and Doug Nelson.
Kale Nelson (left), Nathan Ramian and Doug Nelson.

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Region-raised slugger Seymour selected by Tampa Bay Rays

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

Bobby Seymour strikes an imposing figure on the baseball field.
The lefty-swinging first baseman stands 6-foot-4 and weight 250.
“I’m pretty big and physical,” says Seymour. “I’m definitely powerful.
“I have a smart baseball I.Q. and play the game the right way.”
This week the 22-year-old resident of St. John, Ind., and 2017 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is to travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., next Tuesday for a physical and could begin his professional playing career soon.
With one year of eligibility remaining because of COVID-19, Seymour has represented the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on the diamond for four seasons.
In 176 games, Seymour hit .320 (223-of-695) with 38 home runs, 45 doubles, 190 runs batted in, 135 runs scored.
With 21, Seymour was among the nation’s top NCAA Division homer hitters in 2021. Ahead of him were South Carolina’s Wes Clarke and Florida State’s Matheu Nelson with 23 apiece and Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas with 22. Tied with Seymour were Northeastern’s Jared Dupere, Dallas Baptist’s Jackson Glenn, Memphis’ Hunter Goodman and Texas Tech’s Jace Jung.
Kavadas, a 2018 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is an 11th-round 2021 draft pick of the Boston Red Sox.
What are Seymour’s best qualities as a hitter?
“Being able to drive the ball to all fields,” says Seymour. “When guys are in scoring position, you you just want to drive them in.
“You’re trying to do a job. You just want to want a good swing on something and pass the torch.”
Playing for Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter, associate head coach/hitting coach Bill Cilento and volunteer coach Joey Hammond (now head coach at High Point University), Seymour shined.
“It was an absolute pleasure playing for (Walter),” says Seymour. “He always knew how to get me to perform at my best. He made it a priority to make me better.”
Seymour could always count on Cilento and Hammond to throw him extra batting practice or help him with his defense. He went from 10 errors as a freshman to 12 in his next three seasons.
The pandemic shortened the 2020 campaign. Seymour turned heads around the college baseball world in 2019, hitting .377 with seven homers, 12 doubles, a nation-leading 92 RBIs (45 with two outs) and 51 runs. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist. All-American honors came from Collegiate Baseball (first team), Perfect Game (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (second team), D1Baseball.com (third team).
Seymour continued to produce even after being struck by what turned out to be appendicitis during an ACC series against North Carolina State. Even with stabbing pains in his abdomen, adrenaline and antibiotics allowed him to the stay in the lineup.
That summer Seymour played a few weeks with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League and was going to join Team USA, but ended up having appendix surgery while on the Cape.
“My dad (Bob) happened to be there, which was good,” says Seymour.
Seymour did not play summer collegiate ball this year while getting ready for the draft, working out at The Max in McCook, Ill., home to Top Tier Baseball and his hitting instructor since high school, Matt Plante.
The power hitter was in the Northwoods League in the summers of 2018 (St. Cloud, Minn., Rox) and 2020 (Rockford, Ill., Rivets).
Born in Harvey, Ill., in 1998, Robert John Seymour moved from Homewood, Ill., to St. John with his family when he was about 5. He played in youth leagues from 6 to 8 then travel ball for the Region Redbirds followed by the Illinois Sparks and Top Tier Baseball.
Many travel ball teammates and opponents from either side of the Indiana-Illinois State Line wound up playing in the Chicago Catholic League, including Scott Kapers (now in the Texas Rangers system).
After a few months at Brother Rice, Seymour followed family tradition by enrolling at Mount Carmel. He father, grandfather and uncles went there.
Playing for Caravan head coach Brian Hurry, Seymour was selected as the 2017 Daily Southtown Player of the Year after hitting .561 with 15 homers, 10 doubles and 48 RBIs. In a junior, he hit .374 with four homers, 10 doubles and 51 RBIs. Mount Carmel was an Illinois Class 4A state runner-up in 2015.
Seymour made an immediate impact at Wake Forest, earning Collegiate Baseball Freshmen All-American honors.
Bob and Zoe Ann Seymour have three children — Adrienne, Lizzie and Bobby. The girls both graduated from Lake Central High School in St. John. Lizzie Seymour played softball and George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Bobby Seymour (Wake Forest University Photo)

IHSCBA names all-staters for 2021 season

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

Members of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association voted for all-state teams and the organization has released that list.
All-staters are honored in all four classes. As a selection in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Southridge shortstop Colson Montgomery was automatically named all-state.

2021 IHSBCA ALL-STATE TEAM
Class 4A
Pitchers: Grant Stratton (Jasper), Nate Dohm (Zionsville).
C: Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville).
1B: Kaleb Kolpien (Homestead).
2B: Joel Walton (Mount Vernon of Fortville).
3B: Connor Foley (Jasper).
SS: Tucker Biven (New Albany).
OF: Carter Mathison (Homestead), Max Clark (Franklin), Tommy O’Connor (Mooresville).
Honorable Mention: Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence); Austin Bode (Columbus North); Jaden Deel (Hobart); Andrew Wallace (Jasper); Jackson Micheels (Carmel); Breenen Weigert (Homestead); Jack Braun (Fishers); Tyler Walkup (Lawrence North); Quentin Markle (Westfield); Joe Huffman (Avon); Nick Mitchell (Carmel); Brad White (Andrean); Blake Herrmann (Castle); Camden Jordan (Cathedral); Sam Gladd (Columbia City); Eli Hopf (Jasper); Brody Chrisman (Zionsville); J.D. Rogers (Carmel); Keaton Mahan (Westfield); Gage Standifer (Westfield); Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North); Chris Gallagher (Cathedral); Carter Doorn (Lake Central); Grant Comstock (Valparaiso); Tate Warner (Fishers); Carter Gilbert (Northridge).

Class 3A
Pitchers: Garrett Harker (Lebanon), Luke Hayden (Edgewood).
C: Keifer Wilson (Greencastle).
1B: Brycen Hannah (John Glenn).
2B: Gavin Morris (Northview).
3B: Dalton Wasson (Heritage), Camden Gasser (Southridge).
SS: Dominic Decker (Silver Creek).
OF: Jared Comia (Hanover Central), Evan Pearce (Oak Hill), Kade Townsend (Peru), Sergio Lira Ayala (NorthWood).
Honorable Mention: Jacob Loftus (Peru); Xavier Nolan (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger); Aidan Hardcastle (Oak Hill); Cameron Sater (Edgewood); Riley Western (Western); Brody Whitaker (Greencastle); Nick Sutherlin (Greencastle); Jack Moroknek (Brebeuf Jesuit); Landon Carr (Northview); Kameron Salazar (Wawasee); Damien Gudakunst (Leo); Connor Schmiedlin (Culver Academies); Jacob Pruitt (Yorktown); Zach Forner (Madison); Andrew Dutkanych (Brebeuf Jesuit); Mitchell Dean (Western); Holden Groher (Silver Creek); Bret Matthys (Hanover Central); Trey Reed (Washington); Coley Stevens (Leo); Peyton Olejnik (Hanover Central).

Class 2A
Pitchers: Owen Willard (Eastside), Brady Linkel (South Ripley).
C: Joel Kennedy (Monroe Central).
1B: Parker Allman (Lapel).
2B: Alex VanWinkle (Union County).
3B: Gavin Lash (Wapahani).
SS: Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie).
OF: C.J. Richmond (Park Tudor), Dane DuBois (Cascade), Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian).
Honorable Mention: Gavin Gleason (Delphi); Brayden Stowe (Perry Central); Aidan Roach (Cascade); Drew Murray (Boone Grove); Andrew Shepherd (Mitchell); Snyder Pennington (Eastern of Pekin); Eli Watson (Providence); Aidyn Coffey (Monroe Central); Darien Pugh (Cascade); Gavin Noble (Wapahani); Chase Long (Delphi); Caleb Henderson (Wapahani); Gabe Eslinger (Linton-Stockton); Adam Besser (South Adams); Dominic Anderson (Hagerstown); Josh Pyne (Linton-Stockton); Khal Stephen (Seeger); Bryce Deckman (Monroe Central); Wyatt Blinn (Cascade).

Class 1A
Pitchers: Garrett Stevens (Bethesda Christian), Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic).
C: Mo Lloyd (Southwood).
1B: Alex Farr (Southwood).
2B: Ethan Bock (Fremont).
3B: Ethan Wendling (Southwestern of Shelbyville).
SS: Brett Sherrard (Bloomfield).
OF: Nolan Harris (Clay City), Landon Cole (Rising Sun), Evan Price (Rossville).
Honorable Mention: Pierson Barnes (Riverton Parke); Nick Miller (Fremont); Nick Swartzentruber (Barr-Reeve); Riley Schebler (Oldenburg Academy); Kyle Swartzentruber (North Daviess); Jordan Jones (Southwestern of Shelbyville); Aaron Wagler (Barr-Reeve); Kameron Colclasure (Fremont); Joey Spin (Caston); Andrew Oesterling (Oldenburg Academy); Mason Yentes (Southwood); Jake Moynihan (Seton Catholic); Cayden Gothrup (Daleville); Samuel Gasper (Borden); Gavin Gentry (Borden).

IHSBCA selects 2021 North/South All-Stars

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

The same week the IHSAA crowns four state champions in Indianapolis, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association will conduct its North/South All-Star Series in Evansville.
State Finals are Monday and Tuesday, June 21-22 at Victory Field with the games to be set after semistates.
The IHSBCA will hold its all-star game festivities Friday through Sunday, June 25-27 at the University of Evansville and historic Bosse Field.
Practice is at U of E’s German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium (North workout at 3:15 p.m. Central Time, South workout at 5 Central) followed by the all-star banquet at Crescent Center at Milestones at 7 Central.
A noon doubleheader is slated for Saturday at Braun Stadium with a wood-bat single game on Sunday at Bosse Field at 11 a.m. Central. Holiday Inn Express East, 220 Kirkwood Drive, is the team hotel.
The North leads 68-63 in the all-time series.
Indiana all-stars are seniors nominated by IHSBCA members and selected by a committee.
In addition, the IHSBCA Futures Game (non-seniors) is to be staged in Evansville Wednesday, June 28.

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES
2021 Rosters
North
Pitchers
Rex Stills (Wheeler)
Coley Stevens (Leo)
Bryce Schaum (Munster)
x-Grant Comstock (Valparaiso)
Logan Nickel (Westfield)
x-Kyle Tupper (South Bend St. Joseph)
x-Garrett Harker (Lebanon)
x-Carter Doorn (Lake Central)
Khal Stephen (Seeger)
Catchers
Karson Kennedy (Harrison of West Lafayette)
Jaden Deel (Hobart)
x-Jacob Loftus (Peru)
First Basemen
Matt Dobuck (Plymouth)
Alex Farr (Southwood)
Second Basemen
x-Kameron Salazar (Wawasee)
Riley Western (Western)
Shortstops
A.J. Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic)
Gavin Noble (Wapahani)
Third Basemen
Rocco Hanes (Norwell)
Aric Ehmke (DeKalb)
Outfielders
Sergio Lira Ayala (NorthWood)
x-Carter Mathison (Homestead)
x-Caleb Koeppen (Lafayette Jeff)
Jared Comia (Hanover Central)
Flex
Cal Curiel (Crown Point)
Head Coach
Tim Bordenet (Lafayette Central Catholic head coach)
Assistants
Steve Strayer (Crown Point head coach)
Nick Byall (Homestead head coach)
Shawn Harkness (Homestead assistant)
South
Pitchers
Cal Shepherd (Lawrence North)
x-Luke Hayden (Edgewood)
x-Chris Gallagher (Indianapolis Cathedral)
Drue Young (Center Grove)
x-Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic)
Nate Dohm (Zionsville)
x-Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North)
x-Holden Groher (Silver Creek)
Brady Linkel (South Ripley)
Catchers
Evan Waggoner (Bedford North Lawrence)
x-Hunter Dobbins (Mt. Vernon of Fortville)
Pierson Barnes (Riverton Parke)
First Basemen
C.J. Richmond (Park Tudor)
Parker Allman (Lapel)
Middle Infielders
x-Henry Brown (Evansville Central)
Nick Mitchell (Carmel)
x-Colson Montgomery (Southridge)
Andrew Oesterling (Oldenburg Academy)
Camden Gasser (Southridge)
Third Basemen
Jack Moroknek (Brebeuf Jesuit)
Nick Sutherlin (Greencastle)
Outfielders
Blake Herrmann (Castle)
Reid Cleary (East Central)
Ty Rumsey (Evansville North)
Parker Harrison (Columbus East)
Flex
Eli Watson (Providence)
Head Coach
Chris McIntyre (New Albany head coach)
Assistants
Ben McDaniel (Columbus North head coach)
Paul Quinzer (Mount Vernon of Posey head coach)
Chris Schaefer (Evansville Memorial assistant)
x-Denotes District Players of the Year.

Here are 2021 IHSBCA District Players of the Year

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association members have voted and selected 16 district players of the year for 2021.

All-State and Indiana Player of the Year voting begins June 6.

The IHSAA state tournament series begins with sectionals May 26-31, followed by regionals June 5, semistates June 12 and the State Finals June 21-22. The IHSBCA Futures Games and North/South All-Star Series is slated for June 23-27 in Evansville.

Here’s a look at the 16 seniors chosen at Players of the Year in Districts A through P:

A — Carter Doorn (Lake Central). A right-handed pitcher/first baseman for Indians coach Mike Swatrzentruber, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Doorn is committed to Purdue University

Says Swartzentruber: “Carter has been with us for two years following his transfer from Illiana Christian … Great kid, great student and great leader on our young team. One of my favorite players I have coached during my 24 years. … He has been a dominant player this year for us both on the mound and at the plate. There is not a doubt in my mind that he will do great things at Purdue and beyond. Great work ethic and very competitive young man.”

Lake Central is in the Class 4A Merrillville Sectional.

B — Grant Comstock (Valparaiso). A right-handed pitcher for Vikings coach Todd Evans, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Comstock is committed to Northwestern University.

Says Evans: “He’s been a great pitcher for us, probably one of the more dominant pitchers in the (Duneland Athletic Conference). He’s a leader on and off the field. He also plays football and basketball. He’s a hard-working kid.”

Valparaiso is in the Class 4A Chesterton Sectional.

C — Kyle Tupper (South Bend Saint Joseph). A right-handed pitcher/third baseman for Indians coach John Smolinski, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Tupper is committed to Purdue Northwest.

Says Smolinski: “Kyle has been blessed with an amazing ability to excel in both athletics and academics. Along with Kyle’s great leadership skills, he’s an outstanding teammate who respects his coaches, teachers and family. He’s hard-working, motivated and driven in everything that he does. I’m so proud of Kyle and very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach him. I look forward to seeing him succeed on and off the field in the future … Kyle is the type of player where you wish you had nine of him on the field. He does everything you ask. He makes his teammates better.”

St. Joseph is in the Class 3A South Bend Clay Sectional.

D — Carter Mathison (Homestead). A lefty-swinging/throwing outfielder/pitcher for Spartans coach Nick Byall, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mathison is committed to Indiana University.

Says Byall: “He has been a phenomenal player for us for four years. He is extremely talented, but has also worked extremely hard to transform his body and skills to an elite level … He is phenomenal to coach because you know he’s going to work hard and go about his business the right way every single day. He has been phenomenal for us this year, performing at such a high level, and by working hard everyday. He has a really bright future.”

Homestead is in the Class 4A Huntington North Sectional.

E — Jacob Loftus (Peru). A righty-swinging catcher for Tigers coach Chuck Brimbury, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Loftus has not yet made his college commitment. He plans to major in Secondary Math Education.

Say Brimbury:  “Jacob is the best high school player I have coached at Peru High School in my two-plus decades. Hard worker, captain, tough, talented, and a model of ‘team first’ guy. We have have had two drafts, dozens of college players and several D-1 players from our program. Jacob ‘Yogi’ Loftus is our best to play here.”

Peru is in the Class 3A Northwestern Sectional.

F — Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville). A righty-swinging catcher/shortstop/third baseman for Marauders coach Brad King, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Dobbins is committed to Ball State University.

Says King: “Hunter is a very talented player — one of the best I’ve had. Hunter is probably the best all-around hitter I’ve ever had. He’s definitely a five-tool player. He has the ability to play not only at the collegiate level but the professional level … He’s a good leader (for the program’s first outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship). He talks hitting and situations all the time with our guys.”

Mount Vernon is in the Class 4A Pendleton Heights Sectional.

G — Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North). A right-handed pitcher/shortstop for Bull Dogs coach Ben McDaniel, the 6-foot, 170-pound McIntosh is committed to Alabama State University.

Says McDaniel: “He is my starting shortstop and leading the team at the plate.”

Columbus North is in the Class 4A Bloomington North Sectional.

H — Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic). A right-handed pitcher/second baseman/third baseman for Cardinals coach Dave Marker, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Leverton is committed to Miami University (Ohio).

Says Marker: “I don’t think there’s another player in the state of Indiana that means more to his team than Luke means to ours. He strikes out between 15 and 21 guys (per game) … He’s had 11 strikeouts in four innings (a couple of times) … At the 1A level he strikes fear into the hearts of hitters … He’s got six pitches. He’ll have to whittle that down at the next level.”

Seton Catholic is in the Class 1A Seton Catholic Sectional. 

I — Kameron Salazar (Wawasee). A lefty-swinging shortstop for Warriors coach Brent Doty. the 5-foot-7, 160-pound Salazar is committed to Marian University.

Says Doty: “Kameron is the kind of player every coach hopes they will have the opportunity to coach — hard-working, dedicated, coachable, but most importantly a leader! Add it in the athletic ability and that describes Kameron Salazar. He has the ability to hit any pitch in any count to all fields. He is one of the best pure hitters I have had the opportunity to coach … His quick hands aid him both on the offensive and defensive side of the game. He will use all fields offensively and has significant range in the middle of the infield … All of those abilities — as great as they are — of course don’t come even close to describing his character! He is one of the nicest young men you would ever meet and terrific teammate! He has been (would have been) a four-year starter for us at shortstop if not for COVID. He has been the heart and soul of our program for the past four years and he will be great missed as he moves on to Marian next year. It’s truly been an honor to have the opportunity to coach him these past four years.”

Wawasee is in the Class 3A Wawasee Sectional.

J — Caleb Koeppen (Lafayette Jeff). A lefty-swinging center fielder for Bronchos coach Scott McTagertt, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Koeppen has not yet committed to a college program but has received offers from NCAA Division I schools.

Says Koeppen: “He’s by far one of the most enjoyable kids I’ve ever coached. He works as hard as anybody at practice. He does things the right way all the time … It’s been fun to sit back and watch him play this year.”

Lafayette Jeff is in the Class 4A Lafayette Jeff Sectional.

K — Garrett Harker (Lebanon). A right-handed pitcher/shortstop for Tigers coach Rick Cosgray, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Harker is committed to the University of Cincinnati.

Says Cosgray: “Garrett is just a very well-rounded player. He’s an exceptional right-handed pitcher, topping out at 95 mph with good command of his curveball, slider and change-up … Defensively at shortstop, he’s very sound. He makes the routine play but also has the ability to make the spectacular play when necessary … He hits in the 3-hole for us. He can hit for power. He’s a gap-to-gap approach hitter, hitting over .500. It’s hard to find a more well-rounded player than him.”

Lebanon is in the Class 3A North Montgomery Sectional.

L — Chris Gallagher (Indianapolis Cathedral). A right-handed pitcher/shortstop for Fighting Irish coach Ed Freije, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Gallagher is committed to Wright State University.

Says Freje: “He’s been a lead-off hitter and the top arm we go to … Chris is comfortable (as a sidearmer). He’s taken that role and run with it … He’s been incredibly impactful on the bases. He’s a gamer. He’s embraced all the roles he’s been given. He’s been a pleasure to coach.”

Cathedral is in the Class 4A Ben Davis Sectional.

M — Luke Hayden (Edgewood). A right-handed pitcher/second baseman for Mustangs coach Bob Jones, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Hayden is committed to Indiana University.

Says Jones: “He throws 92 mph-plus and he mixes his pitches real well. He gets a lot of strikeouts. He’s able to throw the ball up, throw the ball down and hit the corners … He hits well. He’s well over 400. He’s just a consistent guy.”

Edgewood is in the Class 3A Owen Valley Sectional.

N — Holden Groher (Silver Creek). A right-handed pitcher/first baseman for Dragons coach Joe Decker, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Groher is committed to Butler University.

Says Decker: “He’s had a really good senior year. He’s been good on the mound and at the plate for us. He probably could have gone some places to be a two-way (having played all over the field). He’s one of the better athletes I’ve got to coach … Stuff comes really easy to him.”

Silver Creek is in the Class 3A Silver Creek Sectional.

O — Colson Montgomery (Southridge). A lefty-swinging shortstop for Raiders coach Gene Mattingly, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Montgomery is committed to Indiana University.

Says Mattingly: “He’s one of those kids who’s humble, hard-working and he competes. He want to be the best and he goes about his business to be the best … I’ve been around him a long time and he’s just a good kid.”

Southridge is in the Class 3A Southridge Sectional.

P —  Henry Brown (Evansville Central). A righty-swinging shortstop for Bears coach Mike Goedde, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Brown is committed to Indiana State University.

Says Goedde: “He’s been our most-consistent player all year. He’s in the middle of a good season. He’s had minimal slumps …. He’s versatile enough that he can play just about anywhere. Henry moves very well. He’s got a good, athletic body.”

Evansville Central is in the Class 4A Evansville Reitz Sectional.

IHSBCA 2021 District Players of the Year (School/Head Coach)

A — Carter Doorn (Lake Central/Mike Swatrzentruber).

B — Grant Comstock (Valparaiso/Todd Evans).

C — Kyle Tupper (South Bend Saint Joseph/John Smolinski).

D — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Nick Byall).

E — Jacob Loftus (Peru/Chuck Brimbury).

F — Hunter Dobbins (Mount Vernon of Fortville/Brad King).

G — Kyler McIntosh (Columbus North/Ben McDaniel).

H — Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic/Dave Marker).

I — Kameron Salazar (Wawasee/Brent Doty).

J — Caleb Koeppen (Lafayette Jeff/Scott McTagertt).

K — Garrett Harker (Lebanon/Rick Cosgray).

L — Chris Gallagher (Indianapolis Cathedral/Ed Freije).

M — Luke Hayden (Edgewood/Bob Jones).

N — Holden Groher (Silver Creek/Joe Decker).

O — Colson Montgomery (Southridge/Gene Mattingly).

P —  Henry Brown (Evansville Central/Mike Goedde).

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Competitive drive fuels Indiana right-hander Manous

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Manous has experienced gains during his three baseball seasons at Indiana University.

Manous, a right-handed pitcher, graduated from Munster (Ind.) High School in 2016 at 165 pounds.

“I was pretty skinny,” says Manous, who Manous earned four baseball letters and three monograms in basketball with the Mustangs. 

Through weightlifting, proper eating and maturity, the 6-footer now weighs 195.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan, he struck out 106 batters in 64 1/3 innings and threw five complete games with a 0.76 earned run average as a Munster senior in 2016. He was Post-Tribune Player of the Year as a senior and a three-time all-Northwest Crossroads Conference selection. 

As a junior, Manous went 6-1 with an 1.56 ERA and 57 strikeouts. His sophomore season for the Mustangs produced a 7-1 mark, 0.48 ERA and 54 strikeouts.

“He was a real good mentor,” says Manous of Shinkan. “He was a good person I was able to talk to if I ever needed anything.

“You’re always able to have fun when you’re playing with him.”

Mike Hackett was head basketball coach during Manous’ Munster career.

Manous spent June to December of 2016 at the University of Miami (Fla.), transferred to IU and sat out the 2017 season.

At the start of his collegiate career, Manous threw a fastball that sat around 88 to 91 mph and occasionally hit 92 or 93.

Since Justin Parker joined the Hoosiers staff as pitching coach, he has helped make adjustments that has the righty sitting at 90 to 93. In 2019, he lit up the radar at 96.

“I’ve learned so much about pitching from him,” says Manous of Parker, who was brought in when Jeff Mercer was hired as head coach in the summer of 2018, making 2019 their first campaign in Bloomington. “He’s changed a lot of my career. He’s made me advance a lot more than I ever before.

“My velo jumped when he got to school. My curve ball got better. Growing up and maturing as a person — he helped with that, too.”

In three seasons on the mound for Indiana, Manous has made 40 appearances (three starts) with a 2-3 record, two saves, a 2.81 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67 2/3 innings. 

In the COVID 19-shortened 2020 season, the righty relieved in six of IU’s 15 games and was 0-0 with an 0.00 ERA. In eight innings, he fanned 12 and walked three.

What’s it like playing for a Mercer-coached team?

“It’s a lot of hard work and trust in the process,” says Manous. “Each day you’ve got to get better.

“You see results six months, a year later — as a lot of us have seen.”

During quarantine, Business major Manous tended to his online studies and worked out at the house then started training at Thrive Sport and Fitness Solutions — a facility co-owned by Mark Banter, Gloria Banter and Jesse Wilkening in Cedar Lake, Ind.

It was through Parker’s connections to Macon (Ga.) Bacon head coach Jimmy Turk that Manous landed with the Coastal Plain League team this summer. After logging a few innings with the Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the hurler reported to Macon June 25.

In six relief appearances, Manous is 0-0 with one save, an 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 8 2/3 innings. A recent four-seam was clocked at 94 mph and he’s had a spin rate as high as 2,450. Throwing from a high arm slot, he also uses a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up.

Like he’s done the past two seasons at Indiana, Manous has been working at the back of the bullpen.

His mindset — no matter where he gets into the game — is the same.

“Just be yourself and compete,” says Manous. “You don’t want to give up a run. That’s how I am in the first or the ninth inning. I don’t really change.

“You’ve got to be composed. The ball is going to be taken deep if you don’t execute your pitches.”

Manous, 22, cites his drive as his top athletic strength.

“I hate to lose in anything,” says Manous. “I’m always super competitive, It’s how I grew up.

“I hated losing to my dad or brother.”

Perry Manous is a computer software developer. Outfielder Garrett Manous (20) just completed his freshmen season at Indiana and plays for the Tropics in the Grand Park league this summer. Kelly Manous, wife of Perry and mother of the two boys, is a personal trainer.

Connor became the fourth Indiana pitcher on the Macon team, joining Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Braden Scott

Left-hander Bothwell (a Boone Grove High School graduate) is among the CPL’s strikeout leaders with 21 in 14 1/3 innings. Right-hander Litwicki (Lake Central) has whiffed 10 in seven innings. Southpaw Scott (Shakamak) has fanned 15 in 9 1/3 innings. The Bacon pitching coach is Josh Teichroew.

Manous did not play baseball last summer, but stayed at IU and worked to get stronger. In 2018, he played for the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps with Jamie Shevchik as head coach and Scott Landers as pitching coach. The summer of 2017 was spent with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers with Cody Piechocki as head coach.

Born in Dyer, Ind., Manous played his first organized baseball at Munster Little League. He went on to play for many travel ball teams, including the Indiana Playmakers and, during three high school summers, Prairie Gravel. His manager was Sam Sorce. Al Oremus is the organization’s founder.

Connor Manous, a 2016 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School, has pitched three baseball seasons (2018-20) at Indiana University, is this summer is with the Macon (Ga.) Bacon of the Coastal Plain League. (Indiana University Photos)
Connor Manous, a Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, has pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University and this summer is with the Coastal Plains League’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon. (Indiana University Photo)