Tag Archives: Michiana Scrappers

Determination helps Sherwood enjoy college baseball success

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

Brycen Sherwood has followed moments of doubt with episodes of clout since leaving Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.
The 2019 ECHS graduate, who was a standout for Blue Blazers head coach Steve Stutsman, struggled in his first days on the diamond at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.
“I did really bad the fall of freshman year,” says Sherwood nearly three years later. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to play college baseball.’”
After a talk with his father — former Anderson (Ind.) College (now Anderson University) player Chad Sherwood (who collected a school record-tying five hits in a 1996 game) — Brycen came to a decision.
“I was going to finish the year out and work really hard,” says Sherwood, 21. “If it doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t pan out.”
Sherwood was at MNU through a family connection. Uncle Craig Sherwood, a 1994 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant, played at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., with Pioneers head coach Ryan Thompson.
In the spring of 2020, Brycen got into eight games during a COVID-19 pandemic-shortened schedule.
“The last week of the season Coach T let me start in a midweek game at third base and I hit a home run,” says Sherwood of a two-run shot socked in the third inning of a March 11 contest against Olivet Nazarene. “I left (freshman year) on a high note.”
By going 7-of-15, lefty swinger Sherwood hit .467 in 2020 and his confidence grew.
With limited opportunities, he did not play that summer. But he worked on his game.
In 2021, Sherwood played in 52 games (51 starts) for MNU and hit .408 (64-of-157) with eight homers, 42 runs batted in, 53 runs scored, nine stolen bases and a 1.200 OPS (.518 on-base percentage plus .682 slugging average).
Sherwood, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, made it a goal to get stronger.
“My swing has always been pretty good,” says Sherwood. “I really started dedicating myself to the weight room.
“Embracing the grind is probably the biggest reason I’m starting to hit balls out.”
Thompson put shortstop Sherwood in the No. 2 hole in his batting order in 2022 and he hit .333 (65-of-195) with 11 homers, 40 RBIs, 70 runs and five stolen bases in 57 games (all starts). He posted a 1.067 OPS (.457/.610).
MidAmerica Nazarene went 39-18 and wound up the season in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
“It’s such a great baseball environment,” says Sherwood. “(Harris Field) is right in a valley. The views are just beautiful. They have a grounds crew. The players are the grounds crew for our school.
“People in Lewiston love their Lewis-Clark State team. The games are televised and that is awesome. It’s a really neat opportunity to play for something bigger than yourself.”
This summer, Sherwood has been playing shortstop and third base as a second-half addition to the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. He had appeared in 11 games through July 21.
Sherwood was going to play in the same circuit with the Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs, but his contract was canceled with MidAmerica Nazarene’s march to the NAIA World Series.
There is familiarity in Battle Creek. Battle Jacks manager Caleb Lang is an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska, which also played in Lewiston. Lang reached out to Thompson about Sherwood’s availability.
The other Battle Creek shortstop is Robbie Merced. He plays for Central Methodist University, a Heart of America Athletic Conference rival for MNU.
In a league full of NCAA Division I players, the Battle Jacks have plenty of NAIA talent.
“You’re an underdog when we take the field (in the NAIA) so it brings you a little closer together,” says Sherwood.
With a COVID year added, Sherwood has two seasons of remaining eligibility. The Business Administration major says he might add another major or minor. He is interested in Computer Applications.
Born and raised in Elkhart in October of 2000, Sherwood took to shortstop at an early age.
“I had above average learning ability,” says Brycen. “My dad (Chad) and uncles (Craig and former Franklin County High School head coach Clark) knew how to play – they taught me a lot of things.”
At one point in ‘90s, all three Sherwood brothers played in the outfield at Anderson.
Brycen started organized baseball at Osolo Little League in Elkhart then was in travel ball with the Michiana Scrappers followed by a summer with Bristol American Legion Post 143.
Chad Sherwood recently retired after 25 years with the Indiana State Police. He was a master trooper detective.
Chad and wife April Sherwood (a librarian at Eastwood Elementary in Elkhart — Go Wildcats!) have two other children. Lauryn Sherwood is a nursing student at Indiana University Fort Wayne. Baseball player Brady Sherwood is heading into his sophomore year at Elkhart High School.
“I think he’s going to be the best of all of us,” says Brycen of little brother. “We will see.”

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)
Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Dogpile including Brycen Sherwood (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Grand Valley State gold glover Nelson a student first, but he still loves being an athlete

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

Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022.
After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored.
The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests.
A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems.
“I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.”
He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate.
“I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.”
Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023.
His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter.
“You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.”
Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws.
“Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year.
“In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.”
As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed.
“It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole.
“Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.”
Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022.
“We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.”
Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach.
“He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner.
“He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.”
Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League.
He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge.
He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior.
Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017.
“(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit.
“It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.”
Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
“I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170.
“I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard.
“Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays)
“It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.”
Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021.
In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college.
Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.

Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Kellogg Community College Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)

Michiana Scrappers, Indiana Twins join Canes Baseball family

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

A nationally-recognized travel baseball showcase brand has expanded in Indiana.
Canes Baseball has brought the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Twins into the family and those organizations have rebranded to Canes Great Lakes and Canes Indiana.
Together with Canes Midwest, there are now three Canes Baseball entities in the Hoosier State.
Canes Midwest president Jay Hundley approached the Scrappers and Twins as Canes was looking to raise its profile in Indiana. Hundley’s Indiana Outlaws, which he founded in 2012, joined Canes a few years ago.
With President and CEO and 17U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
Canes Great Lakes has a training facility — The Scrap Yard — 4027 N. Home Street in Mishawaka. Canes Indiana works out in three buildings at 6727 S.R. 67 North in Martinsville (next to the Centerbrook Drive-In movie theater).
“It’s good we have this opportunity,” says Brian Blondell, president/director of player operations for the Scrappers and now Canes Great Lakes. “It gives us room for growth and the backing Canes has regionally and nationally.
“This makes the most sense for our kids. Nothing changes day-to-day. We just now have more leverage with Canes National and Canes Midwest.
The School of Hard Knocks Scrappers started in 2004 with one 15U/16U team and grew from there and became the Michiana Scrappers, drawing players from Michigan as well as Indiana. More than 130 players went on to play college baseball.
“It was hard with what you’ve put into it, the branding, colors (orange and black) and all the time and commitment” says Blondell of saying goodbye to the Scrappers identity for baseball. The organization has also been involved in softball, basketball and hockey.
In 2021, the Scrappers were represented by 19 baseball and four softball teams.
Recent tryouts for Canes Great Lakes brought out 203 players. Blondell says his part of the system could field up to 22 teams in 2022. That includes three at the 15U level.
Scott Haase, vice president and pitching coordinator for the Indiana Twins and now Canes Indiana, expects there will be around 14 teams wearing the familiar gold and black Canes colors for Canes Indiana in 2022.
Jason Clymore, the father of boy-girl twins born in 2009 who founded the Indiana Twins in 2012, was approached by Hundley about his organization becoming part of Canes Baseball.
Haase says the Canes were impressed with the Twins’ track record.
“Jason has been in the travel ball world for over 20 years developing athletes and are organization has continued to develop athletes each and every year so they wanted us to be the representative for Canes Indiana,” says Haase.
Twins players came from around the state and Haase says he expects that to continue with Canes Indiana.
“The difference now is those athletes that weren’t too sure about making that travel and now willing to make that travel,” says Haase. “It’s a national brand and that’s a big deal to our organization. There’s been immediate buy-in from everybody. We’ve been known across the state, but to be known nationally is a jump we’re more than ready for.”
For more information about Canes Great Lakes, contact at canesgreatlakes@gmail.com.
To know more about Canes Indiana, contact canesindiana@gmail.com.

Canes Baseball
Canes Great Lanes
Michiana Scrappers
Brian Blondell
Indiana Twins
Jason Clymor
Scott Haase
Canes Indiana
Jay Hundley of Canes Midwest (gray)

Mishawaka grad Jablonski gets his college baseball chance at Valpo U.

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

Grant Jablonski had assumed that his baseball playing career was coming to an end with his couple of innings on the mound in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series in Madison, Ind.
The Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate had not gotten any college baseball honors and had already enrolled as a student-only at Purdue University.
“I had given up on baseball,” says Jablonski, who exited Mishawaka in 2019 as the school record holder in career pitching wins (20) and career stolen bases (63) and was part of three sectional championship teams on the diamond (2016, 2018, 2019). “I wanted to play at a bigger school, but I had nowhere to go after I graduated.”
It turns out that two former Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant coaches were going to help Jablonski turn things around.
Nic Mishler, who was then on the staff at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College, was scouting at a sectional game and reached out to Jablonski.
“I owe him a lot,” says Jablonski of Westview High School graduate Mishler who is now head coach at DACC.
Ben Wolgamot, a Western Kentucky University who had also been at Valpo, pulled some strings.
It also helped Jablonski that VU head coach Brian Schmack was at the all-star series since his son, Kyle Schmack, was participating — and on his way to MVP.
After a postgame conversation, Jablonski went to visit Coach Schmack on the Valpo campus and soon was starting his NCAA Division I baseball experience.
“It’s crazy,” says Jablonski, who was 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds when he stepped on the campus. “I owe Coach Schmack a lot for giving me a chance.
“I’m still trying to put weight on,” says right-hander Jablonski who is now up to 5-10 and 175.
In two seasons (2020-21), he has appeared in six games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with a 6.24 earned run average with six strikeouts and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
In his second season in the College Summer League at Grand Park, Jablonski has been working a morning jobs and commuting to Westfield, Ind., on the days he starts. On July 20, the Moon Shots right-hander pitched 5 1/3 no-hit innings with one walk. The reason he came out of the game is that the team only had two pitchers available for a nine-inning game and Michael Brewer needed some mound time.
Jablonski played for the A-Team when the CSL cropped up in 2020 as other summer collegiate leagues were shutting down during COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really good league,” says Jablonski, noting that University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Miami University fireballer and Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate Sam Bachman (No. 9 overall to the Los Angeles Angels) played at Grand Park in 2020.
Former San Francisco Giants scout Kevin Christman has been Jablonski’s head coach in both his CSL seasons.
“He’s a super good coach to have,” says Jablonski of Christman. “He’s a good source of baseball knowledge.”
Throwing from the three-quarter overhand arm slot, Jablonski employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. His four-seamer sits about 86 to 89 mph. His curve moves end-over-end in a 12-to-6 fashion. His “circle” change has a low spin rate and drops. His slider — with more horizontal break — is somewhere between the fastball and change-up with its spin.
“The fastball and change-up compliment each other well when its coming from the same (release point).”
Jablonski says his fastball has spun at around 2300 rpm with the curve as high as about 2500.
There are flat screens at Grand Park that prominently display spin rates and velocity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Jablonski. “You don’t need to fire 95, 96, 97 to be a good college pitcher.
“You need to threw multiple pitches in multiple counts for strikes and have command.”
Jablonski saw Schmack employ an opener (right-hander Easton Rhodehouse) and followed him with a starter (righty Ryan Mintz) in Valpo’s weekend series and both were able to spot pitches well and pitch to weak contact.
Left-hander Geremy Guerrero had a standout season for Missouri Valley Conference rival Indiana State University.
“He is by no means overpowering,” says Jablonski of Guerrero. “But he throws all pitches for command in all counts.”
One thing Jablonski appreciates about Schmack is the he makes small tweaks and does not overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics if it’s not necessary.
“He doesn’t try to change you too much,” says Jablonski. “It’s smaller changes.
“He knows what he’s talking about for sure.”
Born and raised in Mishawaka, Grant played for the Landsharks and later the Mishawaka Mayhem (2011-13), coached by father Jason Jablonski and Mike Fisher. That was followed by the Mike Lee-coached Indiana Shredders (2014-17), Mike Logan-coached Michiana Scrappers (2017-18) and Jim Shively-coached Indiana Chargers (2018-19).
Jablonski earned nine varsity letters at Mishawaka — four in baseball, three in basketball and two in football. His head coaches were John Huemmer in baseball, Ryan Watson and Ron Heclinski in basketball and Bart Curtis and Keith Kinder in football.
“He’s a great coach,” says Jablonski of Huemmer. “We had such a senior-led team (in 2019). He let us work on our own.”
The pitcher/middle infielder earned IHSBCA Class 4A honorable mention all-state honors in 2019 and was all-Northern Indiana Conference second team in 2017 and 2019.
Jablonski, who turns 21 on Sept. 1, is a Business Analytics major and Supply Chain and Logistics Management minor at Valpo U.
Grant’s parents are Jason and Kelley Jablonski. His siblings — both older — are Sydney Jablonski and Ryan Lewis.
Jason Jablonski is administrative director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Kelley Jablonski works at Beacon Health & Fitness.
Sydney Jablosnki is heading into pharmacy school at Purdue.
Ryan Lewis, who played baseball at Mishawaka High and Ancilla College, is employed by the City of Mishawaka.

WSBT-TV Video on Grant Jablonski
Grant Jablonski (Valparaiso University Photo)
Grant Jablonski (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Grant Jablonski (Valparsaiso University Photo)

Junior college baseball route good to Kuntz

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Roman Kuntz is a different athlete since he left the high school ranks two years ago.

As a Class 3A baseball first-team all-state outfielder in the New Prairie High School Class of 2019, Kuntz carried about 165 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.

In his second and final season as a junior college in 2021 the outfielder/first baseman tips the scales at around 220 and is putting the extra muscle to use.

He is sophomore lefty swinger for the Lake Michigan College (Benton Harbor, Mich.) Red Hawks — members of National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12.

Through his first 23 games of 2021 Kuntz is hitting .493 (36-of-73) with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and 33 runs scored. His OPS is 1.027 (.480 on-base percentage plus .547 slugging average).

On Saturday, Kuntz went 4-of-4 with five RBIs and three runs. Two of his hits against Ivy Tech Northeast cleared the fence at Shoaff Park in Fort Wayne, Ind.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Kuntz hit .310 (9-of-29) with one homer, nine RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.098 OPS (.512 on-base percentage plus .586 slugging average) in 10 games.

Kuntz was supposed to play for the Ohio Valley League’s Muhlenberg (Ky.) Stallions, but the OVL did not play and he would up in the Northwoods League with the Steve Cutter-managed Great Lakes Resorters in Traverse City, Mich.

While his numbers weren’t spectacular, Kuntz credits that experience for playing a major part in his offensive jump in his second season at Lake Michigan College.

“I was seeing some of the top arms in the country,” says Kuntz, who hit .222 (18-of-81) with three homers, 13 RBIs, 15 runs and .730 OPS (.323 on-base percentage plus .407 slugging average) in 25 games. “It’s that and my approach at the plate.”

LMC head coach Zak Wasserman asks his players to “compete all the time.”

“Focus on this pitch right now and just stay locked in,” says Kuntz of Wasserman’s directive. “We can’t focus on a pitch or a swing we haven’t taken yet.

“Just focus on the moment.”

Kuntz and his teammates like to called themselves “juco bandits.”

“It’s just a joke we all have,” says Kuntz. “We don’t always have the best of everything and play on the best fields. You have to put up with what you’re given and just embrace it.

“It akes it that much sweeter when you get to a four-year school.

“The main reason I wanted to go juco with guidance from my coaches was two more years to develop academically and athletically.”

Kuntz is due to earn an Associate of Arts degree at LMC before continuing his athletic and academic career at NCAA Division I Morehead (Ky.) State University for 2021-22. Former Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki is the head coach of the Ohio Valley Conference-member Eagles.

“There’s exciting path ahead of me,” says Kuntz. “I can’t wait to get started on the next journey.”

Kuntz visited a number of schools last summer and made a connection with MSU players Joe Rotkis (a South Bend Saint Joseph graduate who he played against in baseball and hockey) and Priamo Lozado.

What will Kuntz study at Morehead State?

Psychology with an eye on the clinical side.

“I just care for people,” says Kuntz. “Everyone can use someone who can understand and listen to them.”

Roman was born in South Bend, Ind., as the second of Brett and Janel Kuntz’s three children. Brother Addison Clark — yes, the family roots for the Chicago Cubs —  is older by two years and was a New Prairie baseball teammate. 

Sister Helaina is a sophomore and No. 2 singles player on the NPHS girls tennis team.

Roman played baseball almost as soon as he could walk and hockey at age 5.

He was in the New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle, Ind., and played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers then the Tony Cruz-managed South Bend American Legion Post 151 the summer before college. 

A varsity player from sophomore through senior year at New Prairie, Kuntz learned from Cougars head coach Mark Schellinger.

“He’s all about the mental side of the game,” says Kuntz of Schellinger. “That’s so important with baseball.”

Schellinger had his players — all of them and not just captains or seniors — come to his classroom once a week for a leadership meeting.

“Everybody had the leadership responsibility,” says Kuntz. “It takes everybody to be a leader.”

Kuntz skated for the South Bend Irish Rovers travel team and was with the South Bend Riley Wildcats Hockey Club his last three years of high school. Moving from defense to left wing as a senior in 2019, he helped the Wildcats to a Class 2A Indiana state championship.

This summer, Kuntz plans to return to the Northwoods League and for manager Corey Thompson and the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks.

But first there’s work to do as a “juco bandit.”

Roman Kuntz, a 2019 graduate of New Prairie High School in New Carlisel, Ind., and due to graduate in 2021 from Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., signs to continue his academic and baseball careers beyond junior college at Morehead (Ky.) State University. (Lake Michigan College Photo)

Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Namisnak reflects on Elkhart Central championship of ’13, today’s game

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was one special season and Mike Namisnak was a part of it.

Elkhart Central went 32-1 and won the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in 2013.

“Not many people in this area can say they had the chance to go to the State Finals much less win State,” says Namisnak, who is now 26. 

The Blue Blazers reigned at the Elkhart Sectional, LaPorte Regional and South Bend Semistate before topping Indianapolis Cathedral 1-0 for the right to dogpile at at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Namisnak was a designated hitter in the title game and one of nine seniors in the ECHS lineup.

Tanner Tully led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run — one of three Blazer hits off Ashe Russell — then pitched a five-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts.

There was also left fielder Kaleb DeFreese, shortstop Cory Malcom, first baseman Riley Futterknecht, center fielder Matt Eppers, second baseman Casey Ianigro, third baseman Austin McArt and catcher Kyle Smith. Devin Prater and Nick Ponce were also seniors on that team.

Junior right fielder Jesse Zepeda was the lone non-senior in the starting combo (he went on to play at Bethel College and start the Indiana Black Caps travel organization). Junior Mike Wain was a pinch runner.

Look at the game program and you’ll see Central wearing baby blue uniforms. During the tournament run, they broke out “camouflage” tops and that’s what they wore in taking the title.

Tully pitched at Ohio State University and is now in the Cleveland Indians system.

DeFreese went on to play at Indiana Wesleyan University and become an athletic trainer.

Malcom pitched at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and became a regional sales manager.

Futterknecht pitched at DePauw University and became a regional sales manager.

Eppers, who was the 4A L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner in 2013, played at Ball State University and became a national sales and product manager.

Ianigro became an office with the Elkhart Police Department.

McArt went on to become a regional sales manager at Forest River. Malcom, Futterknecht, Eppers and McArt all landed at Forest River Inc.

Smith became a television news editor.

Namisnak played one year at Concordia University Ann Arbor, two at Goshen College and then ended his baseball career because of elbow surgeries (the third baseman hurt his arm while diving for a ball in the summer).

He earned his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern Indiana and recently became a purchasing agent at Heartland RV.

Namisnak grew up in Elkhart and played at Osolo Little League and in the Elkhart Babe Ruth system as well as travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers. Prater was a Babe Ruth and Scrappers teammate.

These days, Namisnak teaches baseball lessons in his spare time and plays slow pitch softball.

“I break it down with basic fundamental stuff,” says Namisnak of his lessons approach. “It got me into college. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Mike gives credit to older brother Andy (Elkhart Central Class of 2007) for first teaching him the game.

“From the time I could walk we were playing Wiffle Ball in the back yard,” says Namisnak. “I’d got to his games and we’d work on stuff together. He taught me how to understand the game.”

Andy Namisnak went on to play club baseball at Indiana University.

Steve Stutsman was the Elkhart Central coach that guided the champion Blazers in 2013.

“Coach Stuts was a laid-back coach to me,” says Namisnak. “He had his moments where he’d get fired up and get on us. 

“He knew he had a talented team. He gave us the right direction.”

Namisnak came along at a time where he played varsity baseball on the old and new fields at Elkhart Central. 

He liked having a clubhouse in the back of the dugout at the new field. But he appreciated the older diamond along Goshen Avenue.

“It’s an old classic field, which I enjoyed,” says Namisnak.

He recalls that when the Elkhart River overflowed its banks and water was lapping against the back of the dugout, the field was still playable.

Namisnak still follows Major League Baseball and is a long-time Chicago Cubs fan.

“It’s nice seeing they have a decent team this year,” says Namisnak. “This shorter season was something of a needed thing (during the COVID-19 pandemic).”

Namisnak has come to embrace the designated hitter in both leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a pitched hit a home run,” says Namisnak. “But the universal DH rule should be kept after this COVID stuff. 

“It just makes more sense to me.”

Count Namisnak a fan of expanded playoffs with a compacted schedule.

“More postseason baseball — I’m not going to complain about that,” says Namisnak. “There are no fans at the games so I don’t mind the no days off. Otherwise, you want that home field advantage.

“It plays like high school or Little League ball, not with 50,000 people screaming.”

CGI fans in the stands on TV is too much for Namisnak. But he’s on-board with the cardboard cut-outs. Some teams have taken to giving the fan the the ball if it strikes the cut-out.

Then there’s the extra-inning rule where a runner is placed at second base to start an inning.

“That reminds me of slow pitch softball,” says Namisnak. “It’s not a huge fan of that rule for MLB games.

“It’s just a weird season to sit down and watch baseball.”

It’s a different baseball world from 2013. Was that really only seven years ago?

Mike Namisnak plays slow pitch softball these days. He was a senior on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state baseball champions at Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School.

Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Bickel’s baseball track takes him to Bismarck Bull Moose

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Bickel just arrived with his third baseball team of summer 2020.

After splitting time with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers and the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snakes, the middle infielder is with the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose.

The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.

“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”

“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”

Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.

“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.

“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day. 

Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.

Born and raised in South Bend, Bickel got his organized baseball start at Chet Waggoner Little League, where he played until 9.

At 10 and 11, he played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers — first for Andy Biskupski and then Bill Petty.

After that came two summers with the Brian West-coached South Bend Baseball Factory. 

Longshots Baseball — based in Downers Grove, Ill. — was Bickel’s baseball home away from home. He played with that Rob Rooney-led organization in fall (weekday games and weekend doubleheaders).

Bickel was a three-year varsity player at Marian, playing for Knights head coach Joe Turnock — 2015, 2016 and 2018. 

His junior year, Bickel played in the Hitters/Prep Baseball Report Spring League in Kenosha, Wis.

His collegiate career began at San Jacinto College in Texas. After the fall semester, he transferred to Miami Dade College in Florida.

He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association

Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.

Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., swings the bat in 2019 for Miami Dade College in Florida. He is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (left) takes a throw while playing for Miami Dade during the 2019 baseball season. The 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is now on the roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played baseball at Miami Dade College in Florida in 2019 and is now on the roster of Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Shortstop Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played at Miami Dade College in 2019 and is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. This summer, he has played for the Mishawaka Brewers and Snakes of the College Summer League at Grand Park and just joined the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose. (Miami Dade College Photo)

Manchester’s Pinarski enjoying diamond opportunity

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Pinarski was not sure where baseball was going to take him in the summer of 2020.

When word came down that the remainder of the 2020 season had been canceled at NCAA Division III Manchester University because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pinarski and his teammates were coming off a 6-5 March 10 victory at Taylor University.

“It was a high note for us,” says Pinarski. “We were going into our Florida trip. That got cancelled and the rest of our season got cancelled.

“It was a bummer.”

After quarantine came the chance to play for the Nighthawks in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., where he is got to see many of his baseball friends.

“I like the availability they give us — the opportunity to come out here and show our skills, just have fun and play with other people,” says Pinarski of the CSL, a collaborative effort of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development which is scheduled to conclude July 30.

Last summer, Pinarski played with the National Amateur Baseball Federation-affiliated Mishawaka Brewers and may have played for that squad again and pursued an internship (he is a double major in Sport Management and Marketing). But the pandemic took away the latter and the Grand Park league came along.

Most of Pinarski’s jobs have revolved around diamonds. He worked the last three summers at Riverview Park softball complex in Elkhart, getting fields ready for games.

Pinarski, a 2017 graduate of Goshen (Ind.) High School, has played three seasons at Manchester in North Manchester, Ind. He has two more years of eligibility. One was added by the NCAA because of the pandemic.

In 71 games — mostly at shortstop — he has hit .247 (54-of-219) with two home runs, 25 runs batted in and 44 runs scored.

In 12 pitching appearances (10 including four starts in 2019), the right-hander is 1-4 with four saves. In 37 innings, he has 28 strikeouts and eight walks.

As a sophomore in 2019, Pinarski was on the all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference first team after hitting .262 (27-of-103) with one hour, one triple and five doubles. His on-base percentage was .412. He also earned four saves on the mound.

In 2020, Pinarski hit .304 (7-of-23) in seven games. In one three-inning mound appearance with five strikeouts and one walk.

But those aren’t the biggest source of pride.

“My best quality is probably on the defensive side — being smooth and quick to the ball, getting rid of it and getting the ball there on time,” says Pinarski.

He’s done it all as a Type 1 Diabetic.

Michael is the third of Jim and Valerie Pinarski’s five children — Andrea and Stephen are older; Nathan and Lucas are younger. Andrea and Stephen went to Concord High School, where they were athletes.

Andrea Pinarski is now the Mintuemen’s head softball coach. Stephen Pinarski was a baseball standout for Manchester. His senior season was 2018. 

Michael and Nathan went to Goshen High School. Michael says Lucas looks to be headed to Concord.

Goshen Little League gave Michael his first organized baseball experiences.

“I fell in love with it,” says Pinarski. “I was there basically everyday I could be.”

When it was time for travel baseball, Pinarski went with the Goshen Dugout Club then the Michiana Scrappers.

During his high school summers, Pinarski played for the Jim Treadway-managed Bristol American Legion Post 143.

Josh Keister was Pinarski’s head coach at Goshen High.

Pinarski calls his coach at Manchester — Rick Espeset — “a man of few words.”

“I like him as a coach and as a person,” says Pinarski. “He’s pretty good.”

Michael Pinarski, a 2017 Goshen (Ind.) High School graduate, has played three baseball seasons at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. He is with the Nighthawks of the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (Manchester University Photo)