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Notre Dame baseball’s Podkul keeps producing and keeping Irish loose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If 2018 turns out to be the last baseball season at the University of Notre Dame for Nick Podkul, the draft-eligible junior has been treating Fighting Irish followers to a memorable last go-round.

Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).

Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).

Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.

Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.

“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.

“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”

The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.

“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.

“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”

Aoki has noticed.

“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.

“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).

“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.

“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”

In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.

As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.

Podkul played for the Nortwoods League’s Battle Creek Bombers in the summer of 2016 and Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City Marlins in 2017.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.

“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.

“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.

“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.

“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”

Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.

“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.

“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”

Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.

“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”

Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”

While the American Studies major has been busy with his classes and baseball, Nick has had time to keep up with older brother Frank Podkul Jr.’s senior diamond season at Franklin College.

“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.

“He’s a real good role model for me.”

Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).

Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.

“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.

“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”

Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.

In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.

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Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

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Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

 

Things continue to look up for Bayes, Austin Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Bayes played on the team that made the deepest postseason run in school history.

Less than a decade later, he found himself as the head baseball coach of the Austin High School Eagles.

With Jeff Barrett as head coach, Austin (located in southeastern Indiana) earned its second-ever sectional crown in Bayes’ sophomore year (2006).

In his senior season, Bayes was part of the 2008 Austin squad that went 30-3 and won the school’s lone IHSAA Class 2A regional title to date and made its first semistate appearance.

The Eagles’ two regular-season losses came against 4A schools (Floyd Central and Seymour). The run ended with a 9-6 loss in 10 innings against Elwood. Austin was down 6-1 in the seventh inning before forging a tie and forcing extra frames.

“A lot of good memories were made,” says Bayes. “I’m going to get together with that group of guys over the holidays to celebrate 10-year anniversary of that (2008) team.”

A left-handed pitcher, Bayes spent one season at NCAA Division I Indiana State University in Terre Haute before transferring to NCAA Division II Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

Austin is located 35 miles north of Louisville.

Lindsay Meggs was the head coach at ISU during Bayes’ stay while he played two seasons for Deron Spink and one for Matt Tyner at Bellarmine.

Meggs (who is now head coach at the University of Washington) helped Bayes see the game at an in-depth level. Bunt defenses and the way of holding runners was more advanced as was the sign systems.

That has come in handy at Austin.

“We like to challenge our guys to have that high baseball I.Q.,” says Bayes, who also picked up more strategy from Spink while also observing his leadership style. “(Spink) was hard-nosed. He recruited the right kind of guys that wanted to play hard for him and for one another.”

Bayes appreciated the intensity that Tyner (now head coach at Townson University) and pitching coach Brandon Tormoehlen (now head coach at alma mater Brownstown Central High School) brought to the Bellarmine Knights.

“They had a lot of fire and passion,” says Bayes of Tyner and Tormoehlen. “For me, I like that side of it.”

Besides those traits, Bayes learned about the use of scouting reports.

Bayes joined the Barrett-led Austin coaching staff in 2012-13 and spent two campaigns as an assistant.

“I was very fortunate to inherit the program,” says Bayes. “(Barrett) laid a very solid foundation for Austin baseball. I can’t say enough of what he did for Austin.”

Since 2002, the Eagles have produced four Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series players — Shawn Barrett (2002), Matt Bayes (2008), Hunter Spencer (2014) and Tanner Craig (2017). At least one Austin player has signed or committed to play college baseball since 2014, including Craig with the University of Evansville.

“That’s pretty good for a 2A school,” says Bayes. “If guys want to play in college we want to help them get there.”

Austin (current enrollment just under 400) is a member of the Mid-South Conference (along with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Each of the 10 teams in the MSC play one another once with conference games on Mondays and Thursdays.

Bayes says there is a plan when plotting non-conference opponents.

“We’re lucky that our administration is very in-tune with what we want to do from a scheduling standpoint,” says Bayes. “We want to be a challenged, but we want to be competitive, too. We have to consider our pitching.”

The 2017 season marked the first with new IHSAA pitching rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It definitely makes you develop a staff throughout the season,” says Bayes of the rule.

With postseason games coming so close together, Bayes says coaches must make some hard decisions when their pitchers get close to threshold.

On their way to a 2017 Austin Sectional title, right-hander Drew Buhr pitched an eight-inning perfect game in the Eagles’ tournament-opening 1-0 win against North Decatur. In so doing, he went over the 100-pitch mark and was not available the rest of the sectional.

Buhr (17 innings in 2017) is expected back for his junior season in 2018.

“We lost quite a bit from last year,” says Bayes, who had five or six seniors in the starting lineup much of the time last spring. “I like our group of guys this year. I’m confident they can have a good spring.”

Bayes is figuring out who will join him on the coaching staff. Last year was are in that Austin got to play a full junior varsity schedule.

The Eagles play on-campus on a field that includes a brick backstop with netting. A scoreboard was added a few years ago and the program has a indoor building with locker rooms, coach’s office and a concession stand. The efforts of the parents and booster club have made it possible.

“We’re pretty proud of our facility here,” says Bayes. “For a 2A school, we’re blessed with outstanding facilities.

“In our part of the state, a lot of schools have really started making an investment in their baseball facility. A lot of kids are interested in baseball.”

The baseball backers include Bayes’ family — father Gordon, mother Kathy and sister Mandy (who is married to Austin girls basketball coach Jared Petersen).

“My parents are huge supporters of me and Austin baseball,” says Bayes. “I have a vision of what I want to do and my dad makes it happen.”

Matt Bayes teaches computers to sixth, seventh and eighth graders and helps in the athletic department at Austin Junior High.

While not affiliated with the school, one of the feeder systems for Austin Eagles baseball is a program for kids in the junior high grades.

“It’s big for us to get kids playing and allowed us at the high school to see those kids,” says Bayes, who typically gets to help with development through kids camps in the summer and fall.

Junior high-aged players had been playing at Austin High School. Bayer said they may get to move to renovated city park in the spring.

Players are also involved in Scott County Little League or with various travel baseball organizations. There are more of those now than when Bayes was growing up.

He did play for the Hoosier South Eagles (based out of Seymour) and Tri-County Titans (based out of Henryville) before hooking on for two seasons each with the Indiana Bulls and USAthletic (both headquartered in the Indianapolis area) and then the Evansville Razorbacks.

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Matt Bayes is the head baseball coach at Austin High School. Bayes was a senior on the Eagles team that went 30-3 and played in the semistate in 2008.

Payne’s doing big things at tiny Lanesville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tiny Lanesville is making a name for itself in Indiana high school baseball thanks in large part to Zach Payne.

In Payne’s second season as head coach at the Class 1A school (about 250 students) in 2016, the Eagles were state runners-up.

Many from the Harrison County town of around 600 folks found their way to Victory Field in Indianapolis to see a 4-0 loss to Daleville.

In 2017, Payne has Lanesville (18-6) back in the 1A semistate. The Eagles’ opponent Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 3A game) at Jasper will be Indianapolis Lutheran (18-7). The winner advances to the state championship game.

Payne, 27, explains how he has gotten Lanesville to excel on the diamond.

“The main thing is putting kids in their best positions to succeed,” says Payne. “At a 1A school, we have limited numbers. We have to make the most out of what we’ve got. We try not to waste guys on the roster.”

There are 30 players in the program — the most Payne has had in his short time at the school. There are 20 on the tournament roster. He gets all of them — the starters and the bench players — to embrace their role.

“We will have them all contribute at some time during the season,” says Payne. “There’s a special group of guys who have been the leaders of the team. Other guys have been happy to help out in any way they can.”

The Eagles made it back to semistate in ’17 by topping New Washington and Borden to win the South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional and Loogootee and Northeast Dubois to take the Loogootee Regional.

It was the fourth sectional crown in program history (1975, 2010, 2016, 2017) and third regional (1975, 2016, 2017).

Lanesville is in the Southern Athletic Conference with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central.

With just five conference games (generally played one per week), Payne was free to have a challenging non-conference slate, full of larger opponents, including his alma mater and defending 2A state champion Providence.

“I like to schedule whoever,” says Payne. “This is probably the toughest schedule Lanesville has ever played.”

Lanesville, which plays its home games on Ed Jaegers Memorial Field at Heritage Park, is one of three teams in its sectional group with lights (South Central and Christian Academy of Indiana in New Albany, which did not field a team this spring, are the others) and those schools rotate as sectional hosts.

Zach Payne grew up playing baseball with his father Pat as a his youth coach.

“I wanted to be like dad,” says Payne. “I wanted to coach.”

Zach also counts older brother Sean (head softball coach at Floyd Central) and Providence coaches Scott Hornung, Scott Hutchins and Ben Hornung as mentors.

The 2017 Eagles coaching staff includes Josh Smith, Kyle Erwin, Christian Ensley at the varsity level with Jim Smith and Garrett Sherell guiding the junior varsity.

Payne, a computer programmer at Zirmed in Louisville by day, sees similarities in the community feel at Lanesville and Providence (he graduated from the school in Clarksville in 2008 and the University of Louisville in 2014).

“The biggest difference is the depth,” says Payne.

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Zach Payne, 27, is in his third season as head baseball coach at Lanesville High School in southern Indiana. He took the Eagles to an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 2016 and has the program back in the semistate in 2017.