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Swartzentruber’s career and baseball path leads him to Lake Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man from the lower left corner of the Indiana map has made it to the upper left.

And he’s enjoyed high school baseball coaching success in his new home at Lake Central.

Mike Swartzentruber graduated from Washington (Ind.) High School in 1990 then Oakland City University and began his teaching and coaching career at North Posey.

In 13 seasons in Poseyville — 12 as head coach — Swartzentruber experienced plenty of winning. The Vikings were an IHSAA Class 2A state semifinalist in 2000 and won back-to-back 2A state titles in 2005 and 2006.

The second championship came against Hammond Bishop Noll, then coached by Dave Griffin. Flash forward to the present and his son, David Griffin, is a junior pitcher for Swartzentruber at Lake Central.

Three LC players from the Class of 2018 — second baseman Justin Graves, first baseman Conner Hoffman and outfielder Ray Hilbrich (who is out for the rest of the season with an injury) — have committed to play college baseball for the elder Griffin, who is now head coach at Purdue Northwest.

From North Posey, Swartzentruber moved to Martinsville High School for a seven-season stint.

“I learned a lot there,” says Swartzentruber of his time with Artesians. “It humbled me a little. All coaches have egos.

“We had a couple decent years mixed in, but we struggled.”

He stepped away in his eighth year at the school and contemplated his future.

“I had a lot of time to reflect and realized how much I wanted to get back into it,” says Swartzentruber. He landed interviews at McCutcheon and Lake Central.

“My wife (Misty) was real supportive,” says Swartzentruber. “She told me to make sure it is a place you want to be at. To use a baseball term, make it was a ‘home run.’”

The Swartzentrubers (Mike, Misty, son Griffen and daughter Ryan) were on a Florida vacation in the summer of 2016 when Mike was called and offered the LC job. He accepted on the spot and soon packed up the crew again and headed to Lake County.

Mike Swartzentruber is now in his second season at the school of more than 3,000 students in St. John.

“We’ve enjoyed it up here,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s the hardest job I’ve had in terms of expectation and the number of kids in the program. We had about 100 kids at workouts in the off-season (and there are now 54 players for varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams). “But I want to be in a situation where baseball is taken seriously and is a priority.”

Griffen Swartzentruber is a freshman who played for the Indians’ sectional champion boys tennis team in the fall.

Ryan Swartzentruber is a seventh grader who enjoys volleyball and tennis.

Mike was familiar with the LC program since the Indians had come south four years in a row when Todd Iwema was head coach.

“I knew the history,” says Swartzentruber. “I knew Coach (Jeff) Sandor had won a (Class 4A) state championship in 2012. I knew about all the 20-win seasons.”

Iwema put in words of recommendation for Swartzentruber. They now are colleagues in the business department at LC.

Iwema is an assistant to Brian Jennings at Griffith. Swartzentruber and Iwema share notes on common opponents.

After achieving a 23-9 mark and the latest of the program’s 18 sectional titles in 2017, Swartzentruber’s 2018 LC Indians are 22-5. On Wednesday, Lake Central beat Chesterton for the Duneland Athletic Conference championship. Other teams in the DAC are Crown Point, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso.

The Munster Sectional, which also features East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland and Lowell, is next week.

Lake Central just celebrated Senior Night and seven players from that class have committed to play college baseball. Besides Graves, Hoffman and Hilbrich, there’s shortstop Conner Tomasic (Purdue University), left-handed pitcher Marty Ewing (Indiana University South Bend), left fielder Giovanni Lopez (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.) and catcher Hunter Zahorsky (South Suburban College).

From Swartzentruber’s first LC team in 2017, Ben Nisle went on to Purdue, Joe Graziano to Butler University, Matt Litwicki to Indiana University, Kyle Freel to Purdue Northwest, Jarrett Lopez to Indiana Tech, Nick Bandura to Indiana Wesleyan, Chris Fundich to Danville Area Community College and Tyler Frank to play football at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

With a number of P.O.’s (pitcher-onlys), injuries and early JV call-ups, Swartzentruber has a 23-man varsity squad.

“Everybody who coaches thinks I’m absolutely off my rocker,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s not easy to navigate. There are guys who wish they were playing more. Many times the first time they start are as seniors. With the depth we have, you don’t see a lot of two- or three-year varsity starters.

“I’m still learning. We’ve got good kids. They work hard and are coachable kids.

“We mix and match kids (in a kind of platoon system).”

Pitching has long been a plus at Lake Central. The 2016 team set a national record with 16 shutouts. The last two years, the team earned run average has been at over below 2.00.

“Our pitching staff has been off the charts,” says Swartzentruber. “Any guy we’ve thrown out there has thrown zero after zero.”

Grant Weinmann, who played at Lowell High School and went to the University of Louisville, is LC’s pitching coach.

“He’s a young pitching coach does a real good job,” says Swartzentruber of Weinmann. “I’m more old school and he’s more new school. The results are there.”

Jay Jones, who went through the ranks with John Mallee (former Chicago Cubs hitting coach who holds that title with the Philadelphia Phillies), instructs Lake Central hitters.

“Jay knows his stuff,” says Swartzentruber.

John Novosel, a baseball veteran who has helped at Griffith and coaches with the Morris Chiefs in the summer, rounds out the varsity staff. Brian McNamara is the junior varsity coach and Jeff Myzak leads the freshmen.

Lake Central plays on an all-turf field with generous dimensions, similar to those of Victory Field in Indianapolis. In Swartzentruber’s two seasons, only one LC player has hit a home run there and only one visitor has cleared the fence in four seasons and that was Chesterton senior Tommy Benson when he socked one to left field last Tuesday, May 15.

Growing up, Swartzentruber’s coach was father Dennis.

“I’ve always been a listen more than I talk guy,” says Mike Swartzentruber. “I’ve picked up stuff from everybody I’ve ever been in contact with.

“My biggest influence is my dad.”

Dennis and Patsy Swartzentruber have two children — daughter Michelle (Heacock) and son Mike.

Steve Walker was Mike Swartzentruber’s baseball coach with the Washington Hatchets.

“We enjoyed playing for him,” says Swartzentruber. “My class was always pretty successful in baseball.

“Jasper beat us in the regional in my senior year.”

At Oakland City, Swartzentruber played for Phil Glover and then Les Hayes and changed his major to education then set off on his teaching and coaching career.

MIKESWARTZENTRUBER

After stints at North Posey, where he won two IHSAA state championships, and Martinsville, Mike Swartzentruber is in his second season as head baseball coach at Lake Central High School in 2018.

 

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Character is foundation of program for South Bend Riley’s Harris

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Harris learned about discipline, structure and staying on-task from an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and he’s incorporating those concepts and more in his coaching career.

Harris, who played for Ric Tomaszewski and graduated from South Bend Washington High School in 1992, is heading into his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018.

“Coach 6 was very disciplined about how he went about his business,” says Harris of Tomazewski. “All of us understood the expectations he had for us — even from our field maintenance and making sure we did the right things in cleaning up and preparing the field.

“We go about our business and preparing the kids (at Riley) in the same way.”

A cornerstone of the Riley Wildcats program is character.

“We really look for high-character kids and great student-athletes,” says Harris. “Academics is a really big part of what we try to instill in our kids about life after high school.

“Our boys are all high achievers in the classroom and we tell them there’s always a place in college for them somewhere.”

Riley routinely carries a team grade-point average about 3.0 and has been at 3.8.

“From freshmen all the way through, the expectations are really high and the kids take that seriously and focus really hard,” says Harris. “It’s a testament to the kids and the parents.

“Grades come first. Academics are going to carry you a lot farther (than athletics).”

Riley currently has graduate Gabe Douglass on the baseball team at Grace College. Brett Carlson finished up at Purdue University a few years ago. Current Wildcats senior Zach Meert has committed to Indiana University South Bend, now led by former Riley assistant and Washington head coach Doug Buysse.

Harris and his assistant coaches — Mike Armey, Gavin Adams, Cameron Evans, Andrew Teall and Steve Fletcher — stress the importance of being good people all the time and not just on the baseball field.

“You represent South Bend; you represent Riley; you represent your family; you represent me as a coach; and we want to represent each other well,” says Harris, who is married to Sybil and has two boys — Riley sophomore baseball player Jackson Williams (16) and Gregory Harris (10). “I try to be a high-character person myself to make sure I’m representing my family, my baseball family, South Bend and my school well and those expectations stay high.”

Harris is passionate about baseball and the life lessons that can be taught through the sport.

“It helps them prepare for the world,” says Harris. “I love the relationships I’ve built with these kids.”

Adams, Evans and Teall all played for Harris at Riley and are now coaching with him.

Between the lines, Harris wants his hitters to have the ability to manufacture runs if power is not present, to make the routine defensive plays and for pitchers to throw strikes on their first delivery.

“First-pitch strike success will lead to success,” says Harris. “If we don’t throw a strike on that first pitch, the odds are a little bit different.”

Even before the IHSAA adopted pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), Riley coaches were keeping them low.

“We use a program when scoring the game that alerts me early where they’re at and we’ll begin to shut them down,” says Harris. “Mike Armey, my pitching coach, is really on top of that.

“Sixty-five pitches is a long day for us. We never try to over-use a kids arm no matter what.”

Competition among teammates means that players can’t get too comfortable with their position. Coupled with pitching moves, that means that there are many players who can play multiple places on the diamond.

Overall, it’s about the Wildcats giving it their all.

“We want to play the game the right way constantly,” says Harris. “If we put our best effort out there, we’ll take what we get with it. We’ve had some kids with quite a bit of talent and we’ve had some kids come a long way.”

All Riley players receive a defensive playbook that they must know and understand and are expecting to work toward increasing their Baseball I.Q.

“One day they may be parents and pass those lessons on just like I learned from Tomaszewski,” says Harris. “There are still things I believe in that I learned in high school.”

South Bend Community School Corporation has four IHSAA member high schools — Riley, Adams, Clay and Washington — plus Rise Up Academy. There are 10 intermediate centers (grades 5-8) and 18 primary centers (grades K-4).

With smaller freshmen classes than in recent years, overall athletic program numbers are down at Riley. The Wildcats will field a softball team for girls this spring, but did not in 2017.

Harris has 27 baseball players in 2018. Some will split time between varsity and junior varsity.

“We want to fill both and make sure the development is where it needs to be,” says Harris. “With the emergence of travel sports, the Little Leagues aren’t feeding into you the way they used to. With school of choice and magnet programs, kids go where they want.

“We’re trying to reach out in different areas to get kids interested in playing sports.”

New SBCSC athletic director Seabe Gavin and Riley AD Dan Kyle is encouraging high school varsity coaches to meet with intermediate school coaches and it’s likely the primary schools will also be contacted.

“We’re still trying to tap into the Little Leagues and see what they have,” says Harris, who counts South Side and South Bend South East as feeder parks for Riley. “We’re always trying have a place for kids to play baseball.”

While Little League participation is down, travel ball is up.

In the summer, Harris has coached travel baseball with the Michiana Scrappers. This year, he will coach the 16U squad for the Michiana Repetition. The program is directed by new South Bend Washington High School head baseball coach and Riley graduate Marcus LaSane.

Players are encouraged to find some kind of team.

“They need to keep playing ball,” says Harris.

Lessons are offered by Harris at Teddy Ballgames training facility in South Bend.

Harris, who is a product engineer at Dec-O-Art in Elkhart, began coaching baseball at South Bend South Side Little League and then migrated to assistant positions at Riley before following Dave Luczkowski as head coach.

The Wildcats play on-campus at Bob Rush Field. Through fundraising, baseball has found ways to upgrade dugouts and purchase new wind screens while maintaining mounds and playing surfaces.

Harris says getting a new warning track is a goal. A  big-ticket item on the wish list is a press box and lights are dream.

Riley belongs to the Northern Indiana Conference along with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington. The NIC produced an IHSAA Class 3A state champion (St. Joseph) and a 4A state runner-up (Penn) in 2017.

“You can’t take a day off (in the NIC),” says Harris.

Non-conference opponents on the Wildcats schedule include Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Kokomo, LaVille, Michigan City, Plymouth, Triton and Warsaw.

Riley is in a 4A sectional group with Adams, Clay, LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“We may take our lumps early,” says Harris. “We want to be better than ‘South Bend good’ and make a run in the tournament.”

GREGHARRIS

Greg Harris is entering his ninth season as head baseball coach at South Bend Riley High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.

Baseball trailblazer Ken Schreiber of LaPorte dies at 83

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The folks of LaPorte, Indiana and beyond got a chance to say “thank you” in the summer of 2016 when a sign was placed at the corner of 10th and I streets.

Ken Schreiber Way salutes the trailblazing baseball coach lived on that four-block stretch of street while building the baseball showplace — which became known as Schreiber Field — in front of it.

From 1960 until stepping down early during the 1998 season, Schreiber won 1,010 games and lost just 217 and gained the respect of thousands — not only in Indiana — but around the baseball world.

The man was elected to 13 sporting halls of fame, including one established by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association. He was a founding member of that group back in 1971.

That was four years after his Slicers reigned as state championships in the very first Indiana High School Athletic Association tournament.

Besides 1967, the boys and orange and black would finish atop the Indiana baseball heap six more times on Schreib’s watch and he had to go to his other hand to place all the size 10 1/2 rings.

Schreib was tough. Just ask his wife Judy, who he married in 1960, any of his six children — Eric, Kim, Doug, Dan, Mark and Keith — or anyone who played for and coached with or against him.

But he was also generous. If he thought it would be good for high school baseball, he would be more than generous with his time and resources. He was meticulous in his record-keeping.

All the details and photos came in handy when Slicer Baseball, A Cut Above: A history of LaPorte Baseball was being produced.

This writer made about 100 trips to LaPorte and talked to 150 people tied to Slicer baseball in 2016 for the volume published by Regional Radio Sports Network/Indiana Football Digest/Prime Time Publications.

But the most memorable visits were with the coach, often with his trusty dog Scooter at his feet. He remembered decades-old details like they had just happened.

He recalled growing up on the south side of Chicago, right about where center field at Guaranteed Rate Field now stands and was always a dyed-in-the-wool White Sox rooter.

He fondly talked about his adopted home of Michigan City (he graduated from Elston High School in 1953 and Valparaiso University in 1958) and why he stayed in LaPorte even when he got offers to coach in college.

Loyalty and a sense of community meant something to Kenneth William Schreiber.

That’s why LaPorte and the baseball community and at large is going to miss Schreib, who died Friday, Sept. 8 at 83.

The word legend gets thrown around pretty liberally these days. But  this guy was just that. He was truly one of a kind.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

KENSCHREIBERWAYSPEECH

Ken Schreiber addresses the crowd during a LaPorte Legends Game on July 2, 2016, the day the city dedicated Ken Schreiber Way. Behind the Hall of Famer are long-time assistant Bob Schellinger, former player, coach and current head coach Scott Upp, wife Judy Schreiber and former player and long-time assistant Dave Reed. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

OWENWELLSAMLEGION

Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

SCOTTUPP

Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Outlook on baseball, life changes for Crown Point’s Strayer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Discipline and dedication are still important to Steve Strayer.

Crown Point High School’s head baseball coach (2017 is his 15th season) holds to the concepts that’s made him successful (the Bulldogs have won seven sectionals, five regionals and six Duneland Athletic Conference titles on Strayer’s watch).

“We have to keep kids accountable. That’s important,” says Strayer. “The way the culture is today, people look the other way on things. That doesn’t do us any good as a society.

“I believe in being disciplined. But I’ve been a little less rigid.”

On March 18, 2016, Strayer’s outlook changed when he suffered a stroke.

“I didn’t have to go through any rehab or speech therapy,” says Strayer. “I was fortunate I recovered so well. I think I missed a week.”

Strayer, who is also a math teacher at CPHS, went through the season and school year before he realized his level of fatigue.

“I felt fine, but as the year went on, I was getting worn out and I didn’t realize how worn out I was,” says Strayer. “Once the season was over with, I really had to recuperate.”

With time to rest and the help of his wife Jennifer (they will be married 20 years in 2017), Strayer is close to feeling like his old self at 50 and in his 27th overall season as a coach.

“I feel very good,” says Strayer. “I’m very sharp mentally. I don’t think I was very sharp last year. I wasn’t always aware of the little things.”

He just makes sure to get 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

Helping the Dogs alone are a coaching staff full of Region graduates — Matt McCaleb varsity (Chesterton Class of 1997), Brett Keeler varsity (Munster 2009), Matt Zurbriggen (Crown Point 2009) with the varsity, Dave Hoffman (Crown Point 2006) and Austin Atherton (Crown Point 2011) with the junior varsity and Scott Retig (Crown Point 1985) and Steve Lowe (Crown Point 2011) with the freshmen. Former assistant Jose Andrade (Crown Point 2011) has also had a big impact in recent seasons. Zubriggen, Hoffman, Atherton, Lowe and Andrade all played at CP for Strayer while Retig played for Ed Sherry.

The Bulldogs tend to carry 15-18 players per team. Strayer says the number depends players being able to accept their responsibilities within the team structure.

“We constantly monitor and talk with our players about their roles,” says Strayer. “Some of them are not happy with the roles, but they are a good teammate and fulfill the role. A lot of times, we will cut a decent player because we know they will not be happy with being a role player.”

Crown Point is a baseball-crazy community.

“A lot of the parents and kids are into it,” says Strayer. “It’s very competitive. They’re playing a lot of games and trying to improve their skills.”

Cal Ripken and travel teams often practice at the high school fieldhouse. Players also attend summer and winter camps put on by CPHS.

With Chesterton, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso in the DAC, Crown Point needs to stay on top of its game to stay in the title mix.

“You have to have some discipline on the baseball field to be able to compete,” says Strayer. “All of these other schools have a lot of talent also.”

Strayer-coached clubs strive to be proficient with base running, defense, drawing walks and bunting.

“Doing the little things can get you over the top,” says Strayer. “My better teams have always done those teams well.”

Strayer takes pride in having developed strong players and productive citizens. CP has produced its share of academic all-staters.

“Year after year, we have very competitive, hard-working teams,” says Strayer. “We get a lot of classy individuals that go on to (college) and prosper.”

Before arriving at Crown Point, Strayer was head coach at Boone Grove for 10 seasons. During the span, the Wolves took six sectional, four regional and seven Porter County Conference crowns. A highlight of Strayer’s career came in 1996 when BG beat LaPorte 3-2 in the championship game of the LaPorte Regional.

“That was probably my most exciting win,” says Strayer, who was 29 at the time and going against Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber. “They were pretty loaded.

“I was very young and naive and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Strayer, a former IHSBCA president and district representative, graduated from Prairie Heights High School in 1985. He attended Calvin College for one year and transferred to Manchester University, where he graduated in 1990. He was an assistant for two seasons at Prairie Heights before taking over at Boone Grove.

STEVESTRAYER

Steve Strayer is in his 15th season as head baseball coach at Crown Point High School, 25th as a head coach and 27th overall. (Crown Point Photo)