Tag Archives: Lowell

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.

Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

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

Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade.
He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19.
Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U.
He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies.
“I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.”
The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies.
“We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.”
With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile.
“We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.”
A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed.
“We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.”
Howard says bullpens will not begin until January.
“Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.”
Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).
NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks.
“We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.”
Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting.
In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014.
Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity.
Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall.
Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs.
“Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.”
Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies.
Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

Alum VanWienen wants best for Kankakee Valley baseball

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

Jordon VanWienen has spent his life in the DeMotte/Wheatland, Ind., community and now he’s head baseball coach at his alma mater — Kankakee Valley High School.
The 2006 KVHS graduate was officially moved up from Kougars assistant coach in July. He had served four years as junior varsity head coach — one on the staff of Doug Greenlee and three under Ryan Armstrong then three years as a varsity assistant to Doug Nelson.
“Seeing the KV program excel is true to my heart,” says VanWienen, who was a catcher for Greenlee as a Kougar player.
“He’s got a lot of heart and passion — not only for the game but for his players,” says VanWienen of Greenlee. “He’s about more than just winning baseball games.
“He had our backs.”
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period concluded Oct. 16 and VanWienen had about 20 to 25 athletes not in fall sports participating in the twice-weekly sessions.
“We got outside every week that we went with good solid practices,” says VanWienen. “We would work on defense one day and offense another day.
“We had a good turnout. The numbers were high, which is a good sign for the program. There are a lot of good work ethics. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).
In 2021, the Kougars were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.
Outfielder Nolan McKim (Class of 2020) is on the reserve baseball roster at Indiana Tech. VanWienen says a pair of current Kougars – left-handed pitcher Max Schultz and infielder-outfielder Luke Andree — have college potential and there are others that could play at the next level.
VanWienen’s assistants are Jim Pint, Scott Holmes and Jeremy Rohzon. Hitting coach Pint has been a volunteer at KV for 22 years. Pitching coach Holmes and JV head coach/varsity assistant Rohzon are both Kankakee Valley graduates.
KV has two baseball fields on its Wheatfield campus. A JV/freshmen diamond was used for the first time in 2021.
A strong feeder system is a priority for VanWienen.
“My goal is to have a large involvement with local Little Leagues,” says VanWienen, who sits in the DeMotte Little League board.
A travel ball program of DeMotte/Wheatfield players — the NWI Warriors — was established in August. There are currently 9U and 12U baseball teams.
“The program is designed to get boys playing in April in tournaments and they can play in Little League as well,” says VanWienen. “I intend to start middle school season after high school season.”
VanWienen wants to narrow the gap between Little League and high school where some players lose interest or get involved with other things.
After KV, VanWienen to Franklin (Ind.) College for a few years. He was with the Lance Marshall-coached Grizzlies in fall ball and was involved in athletic training. He now works in the grains department at Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, LLC in Rensselaer, Ind.
Besides coaching Little League and at KV, VanWienen led Outcast Thunder 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams from 2017-19.
Jordon and wife Julie (a 2008 Kankakee Valley graduate) have been married for 12 years. They have two children — son Ayden (10) and daughter Hayley (9). Ayden VanWienen is active in soccer, basketball, baseball and 4-H. Hayley VanWienen participates in soccer, gymnastics and 4-H. The VanWienens have a San Pierre, Ind., address.

The VanWienens (counterclockwise from upper right): Jordon, Julie, Hayley and Ayden.

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Atwood back as baseball coach for North Newton Spartans

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Atwood knows about athletic toughness.

The 1981 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School competed in football for Bob Sharnowski, wrestling for Otis Cress and baseball for Tom Urban — Atwood followed Dave Hicks as the Eagles starting catcher — before playing football for Pete Compise and baseball for Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College and baseball for another multi-time Hall of Famer in Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University). Brent Brandon, Don’s son, was a Ravens teammate.

“(Sharnowski) taught us to just be tough,” says Atwood, who is now in his second stint as head baseball coach at North Newton Junior-Senior High School in Morocco, Ind., where he was an assistant then a head coach in the mid-1980’s to the late-1990’s and is now also athletic director and dean of students. “You have to be mentally tough in baseball. You’ve got to be ready at all times.”

Atwood calls Urban “a heckuva a baseball guy.”

“Basics were key to everything,” says Atwood, who experienced an intense coach in Naylor.

“He was a pretty hard-nosed little character,” says Atwood. “(Brandon) was all of the kids.”

Between coaching assignments at North Newton, Atwood was an assistant baseball coach on the staff of Mike Moyzis at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. Current Hebron (Ind.) High School head coach and athletic director John Steinhilber was also on the Pumas staff.

Rick O’Dette, who would be Saint Joseph’s head coach for 17 seasons until the school closed at the end of the 2017 season, was an SJC player at the time.

Atwood’s 1997 North Newton baseball club won a Kankakee Valley Sectional title in the last year of the IHSAA single-class era before bowing to Chesterton in the semifinals of the LaPorte Regional.

He then went to Delphi (Ind.) Community High School and was the Oracles head coach for baseball and wrestling.

The 2020-21 school year is Atwood’s second back at North Newton, where he is now athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic kept him from coaching the Spartans in the spring 2020. If the weather cooperates, North Newton could open the season Thursday, April 1 against Hebron. The team is slated to visit Harrison in West Lafayette Saturday, April 3.

With 24 players in the program, the Spartans will field varsity and junior varsity teams, playing home games on the campus located at the school.

Serving students in the towns of Lake Village, Mount Ayr, Roselawn, Sumava Resorts, Thayer and Morocco, North Newton (enrollment around 350) is a member of the Midwest Athletic Conference (with Frontier, North White, South Newton, Tri-County and West Central).

MAC teams meet twice, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays in home-and-home series.

The Spartans are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Boone Grove, Hebron (the 2021 host), North Judson-San Pierre, Rensselaer Central and Winamac. North Newton has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019.

Other teams on the Spartans’ schedule include Andrean, Calumet New Tech, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Kankakee Valley, Lake Station Edison, Lowell, Morgan Township, Twin Lakes and Washington Township.

The high school program is fed by youth baseball in Morocco and Roselawn

Atwood’s 2021 assistants are Doug Belt (varsity) and Eric Jones (JV). 

Kyler Rainford, a 2020 North Newton graduate, is on the baseball team at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Morocco has ties to Cooperstown. Native son Sam Rice played in the majors 1915-33 and collected 2,987 hits as a .322 lifetime hitter. He was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963. A roadside historical marker was placed in town in 2019.

Mike Atwood has three adult children — Michael (32), Brittney (30) and Braden (29).

Michael is in the U.S. Army serving in Kuwait. Britney works as a technician at a Lafayette, Ind., hospital. 

Braden Atwood was a three-time placer at the IHSAA State Finals (fourth as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and second as a senior) at Delphi and went on to a be a four-time placer and NCAA Championship qualifier as well as a three-time team champion at Purdue University. He took part in the U.S. Team Trials and was later a volunteer assistant coach at West Point (Army). He is married and living in Connecticut and has a daughter.

Mike Atwood and his son’s dog Bella.

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Nelson came up in baseball surrounded by successful coaches. There were men who believed in discipline. 

He played for Tom Levandoski at Portage (Ind.) High School, graduating in 1992. The Indians were in the Duneland Athletic Conference with LaPorte, led by legend Ken Schreiber (seven state titles and 1,010 victories). 

Levandoski was a student manager under Hall of Famer Schreiber at LaPorte and emulated the esteemed coach.

“He was very hard core and no-nonsense,” says Nelson of Levandoski. “But he got a lot out of his guys.

“We beat LaPorte in the (1991 LaPorte) Regional final, 1-0. And we didn’t win there (often).”

Nelson knows about the way former McCutcheon and current Twin Lakes coach Jake Burton goes about his business and appreciates it.

“It got to see how Coach Schreiber carried himself,” says Nelson. “He would hold guys responsible and accountable with how they acted off the field and that carries on the field.

“That’s getting more and more challenging these days.”

Nelson, a former head coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., and assistant at Portage and Washington Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., took over as head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatland, Ind., for the 2019 season.

He has also been a head girls basketball coach at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City, Hanover Central and River Forest before taking over at KV in 2018-19.

In the spring of 2019, the Kougars baseball team had eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean down 7-3 in the seventh inning of the Kankakee Valley Sectional championship game before bowing 8-7.

“That’s how close we are to beating a good team,” says Nelson. “But you’ve got to get 21 outs.

“A lot of kids from that team that are back (two years later).”

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“Boys are champing at the bit and ready to get back on the field,” says Nelson. “We have a mix of seniors doing a good job of being leaders with juniors following their lead and sophomores continuing that.

“I like our depth.”

In the fall, the Kougars held IHSAA Limited Contacted Period practices outside as often as possible with plenty of fungos to fielders and swings by hitters.

“Being out on the field again was awesome,” says Nelson. “We had 20-plus (participants) every time.”

Nelson expects 40 to 45 players in the spring to fill out varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams. 

Winter workouts have consisted of plenty of weight room and batting cage work. When the weather has allowed, KV players have gone outside and used the baseball field on turf football playing or practice fields.

“We have a pretty nice field,” says Nelson of the lighted facility that has served many times as a sectional host site. Beyond the right field fence is a corn field. In left there is woods.

Assistant coaches for 2021 are Jim Pint (varsity), Jordon VanWienen (varsity), Jeremy Rozhon (JV) and Steve Schmidt (freshmen).

DeMotte Little League and Wheatfield Little League feed the Kankakee Valley program. Though slowed down in 2020 by the pandemic, Nelson hopes to establish a junior high program.

Nolan McKim, a 2020 KV graduate, is on the baseball team at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. There are no college commitments yet from current Kougars.

Kankakee Valley (enrollment around 1,100) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Lowell and Munster).

The conference plays two-game home-and-away series on consecutive weekdays.

The Kougars are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Academy, John Glenn, Hanover Central, Knox and River Forest. Kankakee Valley has won four sectional titles — the last in 1999.

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

“He was just great for the kids — a players’ coach,” says Nelson. “He would give the shirt off his back for the boys. He had them playing hard for each other.

“Portage takes a blue-collar/us-against-the-world mentality. We stuck together and fought.”

Randy Roberts is the head coach at Washington Township. His 2019 Senators were Class 1A state runners-up.

“Randy Roberts is the best coach of any sport in northwest Indiana,” says Nelson. “He is very humble. The (Porter County Conference) is a very good small-school baseball conference.”

Nelson was introduced to Roberts by brother Dustin. Max Roberts, Randy’s son and a Valparaiso High graduate, has pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization.

At Hanover Central, Nelson took the Wildcats to the 2011 Class 2A championship game where they were topped 8-1 by South Spencer. HC ace Andy Wellwerts stuck out 128 batters in 73 innings that season. He went on to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series.

Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, set the state career record for hits (206) and went on to play at the University of Nebraska and in the Philadelphia Phillies system.

Nelson holds an elementary education degree with a physical education endorsement from Valparaiso University, where he played one season of baseball for Paul Twenge. Merel Nelson, Doug’s father, was VU’s athletic equipment manager.

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

Doug is married to Ann Marie and has two sons — Nathan Ramian (28) and Kale Nelson (21). Nathan has coached freshman baseball and girls basketball at Portage and works in the IT department for Portage Township Schools). Kale is a junior at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis.

Doug Nelson (left) enjoys time with wife Ann Marie. Doug is head baseball coach at Kankakee Valley High School in Wheatfield, Ind.

Western Michigan’s Piotrowicz gets hitters to develop routines

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.

A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.

Piotrowicz, who played at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., describes his associate head coach duties.

“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”

Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.

When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.

“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.

“Each guy’s different.”

Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.

It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.

“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”

It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.

“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”

Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.

“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”

The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.

Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).

Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.

Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.

In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.

“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.

“I learn something everyday.”

Prior to Western Michigan, Piotrowicz was an assistant for three seasons (2011-13) at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, where former big leaguer Tracy Woodson was head coach at current Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack was pitching coach.

“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.

In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.

In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.

Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.

Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.

After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.

Recruited to Bethel by Mike Hutcheon, Piotrowicz played one season for Pilots head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.

“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.

“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”

Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.

“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”

Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.

“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”

At Glenn, Piotrowicz played for John Nadolny aka “Nud.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better high school coach,” says Piotrowicz. “He coached us tough. He coached us fair.

“He was hard on you, but you know he had good intentions behind it. He wanted you to be better. Nud was great.”

The Glenn Falcons were 2002 Class 2A Jimtown Sectional champions, losing to Manchester in the Jimtown Regional championship game.

In 2003, Glenn won the sectional and regional at Jimtoiwn then lost to Frankton in the 2A State Semifinals.

The 2004 Falcons had a win-filled regular season then lost to Fairfield in the 2A Jimtown Sectional title game.

Piotrowicz, a catcher, had a backyard neighbor and best friend named Andy Groves.

“I caught him since Little League,” says Piotrowicz. “We had all kinds of fights over pitch selection.”

Right-hander Groves pitched four seasons at Purdue University (2004-07) and two in the Colorado Rockies organization (2007-08).

Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).

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A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)

 

As instructor, coach, Basham still endorses narrow offensive focus

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Basham did not have multiple hitting philosophies floating in his head when he stepped into the batter’s box as a Lowell (Ind.) High School Red Devil.

Lowell head coach Kent Hess let Basham do his thing and it paid dividends.

“He was a really positive guy,” says Basham of Hess. “He was hands-off. That made a big difference in terms of my development.

“I was keeping a narrow focus.”

That approach allowed lefty-swinging Basham to hit .539 in three varsity seasons (2001-03), one of the best plate careers in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association annals.

As a senior lead-off hitter, Basham hit .583, clubbed 15 home runs and drove in 48 runs and was named the 2003 Northwest Indiana Times Player of the Year as well as all-conference and first-team all-state.

Basham’s junior year saw hum hit .538 with seven homers and 33 RBIs and was all-conference and first-team all-state.

As a junior, Basham hit .495 with eight homers, 50 RBI and gathered all-conference and all-state honors.

He went on to play three seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06).

Basham played for the Spartans right away and hit .297 with eight homers, 15 doubles and 27 runs batted in.

“I hit well, but in terms of being a situational hitter, I was leaving a lot of guys on and not driving guys in,” says Basham. “After I made that a primary focus, changed RBI output for the rest of my career.”

MSU head coach Ted Mahan and hitting coach John Young got Basham to see his problem as a hitter with runners on base.

“Early on I put a lot of pressure on myself in those situations,” says Basham. “The pressure is really all on the pitcher with a runner in scoring position. I had zero pressure on me. I relaxed. This is where I want to be.”

His coaches also reminded Basham that scoring a runner from third base doesn’t always require a hit. Sometimes hitting to the right side of the infield or lofting a fly ball will do the trick.

Basham hit ..358 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 43 RBI as a sophomore. As a junior, with David Grewe as head coach, he hit .373 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 53 RBI. He was twice named all-Big Ten Conference and earned a marketing degree from MSU (2007).

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Basham in the 29th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After an injury kept him from playing in the Blue Jays organization, but he did log five seasons of independent professional baseball with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom (now known as the Florence Y’alls), Windy City Thunderbolts (Crestwood, Ill.) and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.

In 420 pro games, Basham hit .285 (195-of-573) with 50 homers, 39 doubles and 123 RBI.

Now owner of Basham Baseball LLC, a training facility in Whitestown, Ind., Basham still endorses the theory that hitters can have too many voices.

Some players can have many different opinions coming at them from the their head coach, hitting coach, travel coach, father, grandfather and so on.

“They’re all trying to tell them different things,” says Basham. “It happens quite a bit.”

As Basham’s playing career was winding down, he became a coach. He was an assistant to Jim Nohos at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He knew Nohos through the Hammond Chiefs and Hammond Seminoles travel organizations.

Basham was an assistant to Mike Kahirsky at Robert Morris University in Chicago.

At 13, Basham was an original member of the Playmakers travel team fielded by Dave Griffin. His instruction career began at Dave Griffin’s Baseball School in Griffith, Ind.

He has also worked with Justin Stone of Elite Baseball Academy, and former major leaguers John Cangelosi, Dean Anna, and the legendary Bo Jackson at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome in Lockport, Ill.

Ryan and Jessica Basham (both 35) moved from Plainfield, Ill., to central Indiana in 2013, landing first in Whitestown then last winter in Zionsville. Jessica, who is also from Lowell, is a human resource business partner for Sales Force. The couple has two daughters — Emelia (8) and Clara (5).

After the move, Basham was an instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Wheelhouse Baseball Academy and Zionsville Little League. He coached the Indiana Mustangs prior to his current role as 16U coach with the Indy Titans, an organization that has Justin Kamm as president.

Basham was with the same group in 2019 when they competed in 15U events.

“I love work working up through high school — 15U to 17U,” says Basham. “The continuity year or year is important in their development process.”

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has everyone separated and training on their own right now, the Titans hope to have a 2020 season.

“We want to try to play as much as possible through June and July,” says Basham. “We usually play 6-8 tournaments.”

The tentative schedule includes appearances with Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments out-of-town.

“I’m going to reach out to families to see comfort level in traveling in a couple of months,” says Basham, who has been communicating with players via email with suggestions for workouts. “It’s almost like going back in time. They have to learn how to train on your own the best you can with what you’ve got.

“You can hit a bucket (of balls) a day if you have the resources.”

The youngest of Jerry and Janice Basham’s four children (following Laurie, Doug and Mike), Ryan fondly remembers spending hours as a kid having Doug throw batting practice on a field in Lowell.

“Throwing and sprinting are the things you can be doing and can do without anybody else there.”

Basham says if this had been a normal year, his team would have been six weeks into training together six days a week.

This quarantine also offers a chance for players to focus on recruiting by reaching out to coaches with notes of interest and videos.

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Ryan Basham, a Lowell (Ind.) High School graduate, played three baseball seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06), twice earning all-Big Ten Conference honors. (Michigan State University Photo)

RYANBASHAMWINDYCITYTHUNDERBOLTSRyan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, swings for the independent professional Windy City Thunderbolts. Basham played five pro seasons and is now a baseball instructor and coach based in central Indiana. (Windy City Thunderbolts Photo)

RYANBASHAMFAMILYThe Basham family of Zionsville, Ind., includes Jessica (35), Ryan (35), Clara (5) and Emelia (8). Ryan and Jessica are both graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School. Ryan is a baseball instructor and coach.

RYANBASHAM4Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, offers baseball instruction. He was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

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Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, demonstrates the baseball swing to a young player. Basham was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

RYANBASHAM2Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

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Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (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). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

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The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

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Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

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The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

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The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.