Tag Archives: Mike Swartzentruber

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We were optimistic.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s kind of a lot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a struggle at first.

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

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

Indiana baseball teams coping with COVID-19 separation

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

UPDATE: Since this story was published, the spring sports season has been canceled by the Indiana High School Athletic Association. The announcement came shortly after Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced that there would be no more in-person classes for the 2019-20 school year.

This was supposed to be the first week of the 2020 Indiana high school baseball regular season.

But the game is on hold while the world deals with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic through social distancing.

In a landscape that is ever-changing, many states have already closed down for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has ruled that all Indiana schools be closed until May 1.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has stated that there is hope for shortened regular season beginning with five required practices — rather than the usual 10 — after schools are allowed to re-open. The state tournament series would follow.

Right now, sectionals are slated for May 27-June 1 with regionals June 6, semistates June 13 and the State Finals June 19-20 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Futures Game and North/South All-Star Series is to be the next week in Evansville.

Time will tell if any of that happens.

How are some coaches and teams dealing with the quarantine?

Crawfordsville coach John Froedge has his Athenians working together though they are physically apart.

“Our players have been strongly encouraged to follow all local, state and federal guidelines in helping to not spread the virus,” says Froedge, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “We are beginning to ramp back up this week with anticipation of a May 4 start.”

The Athenians, ranked No. 3 in the IHSBCA Class 3A preseason poll, have been communicating via calls, texts and Zoom video conferences and had a meeting scheduled to share team and position workouts through Google Sheets that includes links to instructional and motivational videos, articles etc.

“The workouts are all the things they can do by themselves or with a brother or dad,” says Froedge. “The idea is that we’re all working in the same things remotely. They then long each day what they’ve done and share with teammates in various ways, short videos included.

“Our hope for the players — especially seniors in all spring sports — is that they will get some kind of season, however brief it might be. But even if we don’t have a season, we still have a team and are creating memories and imparting life lessons.”

Jon Gratz coached Columbus East to a 4A state runner-up finish in 2019.

He has communicated with his Olympians, ranked No. 3 IHSBCA 4A preseason poll, through texting. He suggests things players can do as individuals since school and other facilities are now off limits.

“It’s about getting creative,” says Gratz. “It’s tough to know what guys are doing.

The biggest concern is that if we have five days of practice and play games to know that guys are in shape to throw and do all that stuff.”

A math teacher, Gratz has been using a platform called It’s Learning three days a week to lead AP and lower level classes. He has made some videos and shared them with his students.

Remind is a platform that is used for group messages.

Gratz says he is taking advantage of the extra time at home to spend with his family and learn things about baseball that he normally would not have time to learn.

At 4A Lake Central, fourth-year head coach Mike Swartzentruber was a few days from beginning tryouts at a school of 3,300 when the shutdown came.

The Indians were return seven starters from regional finalist squad and is ranked No. 2 in the preseason 4A poll.

“You feel for the kids, especially the seniors who have put in so much time and done what you’ve asked them to do for four years,” says Swartzentruber. “It’s hard trying to find the words to say to kids.

“But, in the grand scheme of things, people’s health is greater than playing a game. The trend is not very good right now. But we’re trying to stay positive.”

Swartzentruber has shared workouts that players can do in their basement, garage or driveway. He asks them all to find regular cardiovascular exercise.

“It’s all up to them,” says Swartzentruber. “We say whatever you do, make sure you do don’t put yourself in jeopardy from a health standpoint.”

Swartzentruber teaches seven classes and is now doing that from home since Lake Central adopted eLearning. Assignments are given through the Canvas platform.

“Its a little tricky,” says Swartzentruber. “I know there’s going to be some things lost in translation when you’re not face-to-face.”

Shane Edwards, head coach at 3A Oak Hill and a member of the IHSBCA executive council, has kept plenty busy fielding questions from other coaches from around the state.

“Coaches are nervous,” says Edwards. “They’re concerned and want to be informed.

“We’re kind of in the dark about where this is going.”

Edwards has stayed connected to his players with weekly emails to suggest workouts they can do on their own or with a parent or sibling. The Golden Eagles coaching staff uses group texts to stay on the same page.

“We still hold out hope that we’re going to play,” says Edwards.

With a late start and an abbreviated season, Edwards says many teams will be doing in May what they normally do in March and April.

“Usually by May, you feel comfortable with your lineup and pitching staff,” says Edwards. “So now do you try to get a lot of games in or make progress for when the tournament comes? It’s a delicate balance we’re all going to have to play.”

Oak Hill typically has in-season hitting sessions a couple of times a week during the season. Edwards says that time might be used to bring his young players up to speed on varsity baseball.

“You can’t replace game situations,” says Edwards. “I would want as much coaching time as I could have in those practice situations.”

Also an assistant high school principal, Edwards says Oak Hill is looking to supply some district students with laptops will begin online learning next week.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph is just three career wins shy of 800.

When he’s not home tending to projects ordering puzzles or watching TV with his wife, Gandolph has been going to Indianapolis Scecina Memorial High School two or three times a week to work on the Crusaders’ facility.

“I’m just by my lonesome,” says Gandolph, who has mowed grass and done work on Scecina’s new hitting building in the block house where the old weight room was located.

March 16 was supposed to be the first official day of IHSAA practice. During the Limited Contact Period, the Crusaders got a chance to work out on the grass.

2A No. 3-ranked Scecina’s first game was slated for this Saturday at the end of spring break.

Should the season begin in early May, Gandolph foresees his team hosting a Saturday doubleheader against Providence and then getting in one round of Indiana Crossroads Conference games before the postseason.

“I don’t get too hung up on planning,” says Gandolph. “It’s a day-by-day type thing anyway.”

He takes that same attitude about the milestone victory in his future.

“(No. 800) will come whenever it comes,” says Gandolph, who has been a his alma mater since the 2014 season after years at Center Grove, where he also taught for 40 years.

Gandolph says he has kept in-touch with players through texts and Twitter posts.

“I give suggestions to keep them busy and healthy and, hopefully, keep them positive,” says Gandolph.

While the team has not yet done any Zoom conferences, the Gandolph family has used the technology and is planning to do so this week to celebrate the seventh birthday of one of Dave’s grandsons.

Washington Township was 1A state runner-ups in 2019 with Randy Roberts as coach. The Senators are No. 1 in the IHSBCA preseason rankings.

Like many, Roberts has seen the levels of coronavirus restriction increase. Until the latest constraints were put in place, some players were going to the homes of teammates with batting cages at their homes and conducting their own practices.

“Parents are now following the guidelines that have been set down and keeping their kids at home,” says Roberts. “They’re in that better safe-than-sorry mode.”

Roberts says he has witnessed two extremes on social media regarding COVID-19.

“It’s not that big a deal and no more than flu and older people with prior health issues (are at risk) or on the other side, it’s serious, don’t mess with it,” says Roberts. “We’re expecting the worse and hoping for the best.”

Roberts says many of his players put in plenty of off-season work before the interruption.

“I keep hoping that this thing will level off and we can get back to school,” says Roberts. “Our boys and their parents were pretty devastated when they got sent home from school.

“If theres a glimmer of hope, the boys will start hooking up and getting in their time before I can be with them.”

Roberts has been home with two baseball-playing sons. Max Roberts is a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization. William Roberts is a 2019 Washington Township graduate who sat out a year while getting ready to go the junior college route.

Randy and William went to see Max, who was attending a Mariners “gas” camp in Arizona, when they began to shut things down and send players home as minor league spring training was about to start.

Roberts says some in his area have talked about playing two or three games a week prior to the sectional. If possible, he can see the Senators playing just about everyday leading into the postseason.

A teacher at Washington Township Elementary, Roberts has been instructing via laptop.

Having taken online classes himself, he is convinced of one thing: “Kids need to be in school.”

“You find yourself doing assignments just to get them done,” says Roberts. “Without the interaction, I never thought there was a whole lot of learning getting done.”

Daleville, with Terry Turner at the helm, is ranked No. 2 in the IHSBCA 1A poll.

“My heart goes out to all these high school seniors in all spring sports if they don’t have an opportunity to participate,” says Turner. “It’s just an awful feeling.

“I guess I’m being selfish here, but in the last four years I’ve won two (1A) state titles (in 2016 and 2018). We have the possibility of a third one (with six players, including five starters, from the 2018 team). I was really excited about it. We have right group of kids with the right mentality.

“I have my doubts we’ll even get to see what would happen.”

Turner has had little contact with his players since the lockdown began and has been doing his best to teach online to his pupils at Anderson High School.

“I’m bored out of mind,” says Turner. “I can’t get out to talk to these kids. That’s the worst part.

“Some of the kids have texted me. I have great senior leadership. They’ve gotten together a few times to go throw and stuff. I tell them to do the best they can to stay in baseball shape.”

Daleville was fundraising to pay for its overnight trip to Jasper, but for safety-sake, Turner put an end to that.

Turner had beefed up the Broncos schedule to get them ready for the state tournament.

“I wouldn’t have done that unless I felt like I had a team that could compete,” says Turner. “I said, ‘let’s have a challenge.’”

Regardless of what happens this year, Turner says he has decided that 2021 is going to be his last spring as a coach and teacher.

“I have grandkids I want to spend some time with,” says Turner. “I have a bucket list I want to do.”

At 4A Terre Haute South Vigo, the Braves were hoping to dedicate a full season to Brian Pickens, a 25-year assistant coach who died of throat cancer Jan. 28.

“I still think about him everyday,” says South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer. “It’s all perspective.

“The biggest thing is the fear of the unknown. There are so many what-ifs and unknowns. It’s just crazy.

“We are living through history. You’re talking about fighting something you can’t see.”

The Braves spent to winter building up a library of Hudl videos of themselves hitting and pitching that can now be used as references for at-home workouts.

“I’m trying to be prepared,” says Kraemer, who is hopeful that South Vigo might be able to play Conference Indiana opponents and some others prior to the postseason — if there is one.

When the IHSAA ruled this past winter that teams can have 10 summer practices with four contest dates, Kraemer says he didn’t think much about it.

“Now I think a lot of coaches are going to take advantage of that if possible,” says Kraemer.

Also a teacher, Kraemer says eLearning is to kick in Vigo County on April 6. This is spring break. There were eight waiver days prior to that.

Mark Schellinger, head coach at 3A New Prairie, has spent part of his days tending to eLearning — either from home or at the school — and has joined with his assistants in working on Harry “Bear” Tolmen Field.

“It was weird, knowing (players) could not be out there with us,” says Schellinger, whose Cougars are No. 10 in the 3A preseason rankings. (It’s tough for everybody, but it’s really tough for the kids.

“But we have to take a step back and see there is a bigger picture.”

Schellinger says safety and health are the first priority for players, followed by staying on top of their eLearning and then staying in shape, especially with throwing.

“We’re hoping to be proactive so we have a plan in place,” says Schellinger. “But it’s hard to make those decisions or make those plans.

“There’s just so much unknown right now.”

Should the season get started in early May, Schellinger says he favors playing as many regular-season games as possible.

“The kids want to play, especially in a short time span,” says Schellinger. “Hopefully our pitchers are ready for that.”

New Prairie does have pitching depth, though Schellinger hardly expects 100 from anyone out of the gate.

IHSBCA RANKINGS

(2020 Preseason)

4A

1. Penn

2. Lake Central

3. Columbus East

4. Crown Point

5. Hamilton Southeastern

6. Andrean

7. Columbus North

8. Center Grove

9. Carmel

10. Noblesville

Receiving votes: Avon, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Fishers, Homestead, Jasper, Jeffersonville, Munster, New Albany, Northridge, Westfield.

3A

1. Edgewood

2. South Bend St. Joseph

3. Crawfordsville

4. Western

5. Silver Creek

6. Brebeuf Jesuit

7. West Vigo

7. Yorktown

9. Lebanon

10. New Prairie

Receiving votes: Danville, Evansville Memorial, Griffith, Guerin Catholic, Hanover Central, Heritage Hills, Indian Creek, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Kankakee Valley, NorthWood, Norwell, Providence, South Dearborn, South Vermillion, Southridge.

2A

1. Alexandria-Monroe

2. Lafayette Central Catholic

3. Indianapolis Scecina Memorial

4. Lewis Cass

4. North Posey

4. Speedway

7. Wapahani

8. Delphi

9. University

10. Linton-Stockton

Receiving votes: Blackford, Boone Grove, Covenant Christian, LaVille, Monroe Central, South Adams, Wheeler.

1A

1. Washington Township

2. Daleville

3. Tecumseh

4. Lanesville

5. North Miami

6. Shakamak

7. Rossville

8. Riverton Parke

9. Barr-Reeve

10. Kouts

Receiving votes: Clinton Central, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fremont, Hauser, Loogootee, North Daviesss, North White, Rising Sun, South Central (Union Mills), Trinity Lutheran, Wes-Del.

IHSAABASEBALL

Number of turf baseball fields on Indiana high school campuses grows

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Follow social media or drive by your local diamond and you may have seen outdoor baseball activity this week.

And it’s mid-January.

What do they say about Indiana weather: “Don’t like it? Just wait a little while and it will change.”

It’s largely with atmospheric conditions in mind that more and more high schools around the Hoosier State have installed artificial turf or are considering such a move.

Looking at on-campus fields only (in alphabetical order), turf has been installed or is on the way at Cascade, Danville Community, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Lake Central, Logansport, Mooresville, Noblesville, Northridge, Northwestern, Penn and Providence and idea has been explored in other places.

Here’s an IndianaRBI.com roundup of these places:

CASCADE

The Cascade Cadets played on turf at their Clayton, Ind., campus for the first time in 2019.

The administration (Scott Stevens is the athletic director) made the call to turf the baseball, softball and football fields.

Cascade head coach Ty Foster sees advantages to having turf.

“Last season we were able to be outside for practice or games everyday of the season except for two days,” says Foster. “Rain earlier in the day or week would of normally pushed us inside for a couple days, but now it’s just a matter of hours or even less that we can go out and take advantage of a full practice without the indoor limitations.

“We are able to go out and do things early in the season when it’s usually the wettest and we are getting new players and returning players up to speed on how we prepare for games that most teams in the state aren’t able to because they are inside for the start of the year and are limited in space.

“We were also able to get in a full schedule of games, except a few that scheduling conflicts with conference opponents got in the way of. That is something we weren’t able to do in my first three seasons at Casacde that we were never lucky to do.

“Our varsity can play games, but most importantly our younger players are able to get more experience and play a full slate of JV games in.”

DANVILLE COMMUNITY

The Danville Warriors are guided on the field by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil. Jon Regashus is AD.

Danville’s diamond has turf in the infield and grass in the outfield since the 2018 season.

“More and more schools going that route,” says Regashus of a field that has FieldTurf (Cincinnati-based The Motz Group was the subcontractor). “We were dealing with a construction project in general (parking lots, bleachers, fencing). We looked at the financials and since the field was being renovated anyway, it was cost versus maintenance.”

Regashus says debt was falling off the school corporation’s books and it opened up funds for capital projects.

The AD adds that its hard to give an exact figure on cost since it was part of a larger project, but he estimates that the whole thing came in at around $700,000.

A machine is used to sweep the turf and keep it as clean as possible.

O’Neil gives his thumbs up to the turf infield.

“My first two years there, it seemed that everyday we had to get water off the field, fix home plate or the mound or drainage areas,” says O’Neil. “We were spending more time fixing the field than getting ready for games.”

O’Neil say players were expending energy pulling a tarp that could have been spent in other game day activities.

“I would take our field over anybody else’s field,” says O’Neil.

The game and bullpen mounds at Danville are clay and the warning track is brick dust.

O’Neil says there is something to be said about working on the field.

“Tractor time — it is therapy,” says O’Neil. “(In the fall) we’d be edging, pulling a weed here and there and put it to sleep. I guarantee I’d be out there on Thanksgiving to breathe the baseball air. I did it at Brownsburg all the time.

“It’s definitely therapeutic.”

Having turf helped keep the Brebeuf Sectional on schedule when the Greencastle-Tri-West game was moved to Danville. A Little League state tournament was hosted by Danville in 2018. Regashus says travel teams pay a rental fee for practices or tournaments.

INDIANAPOLIS BISHOP CHATARD

Chatard‘s Dave Alexander Field on the northeast side of Indianapolis was the first Indiana high school to have a turfed field on its campus. The 2020 season marks the eighth.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Alexander led the capital campaign.

“Dave was very generous with his donation,” says Chatard head coach Mike Harmon. (The Motz Group-installed turf) is 2 1/4 inch. The whole field is same height (since it is a multi-use field shared with Trojans soccer programs).

“We were able to structure it any way we wanted. The football and baseball fields were done the same way.

Harmon, who is also an assistant AD to Mike Ford, says the business office has set a rental fee of $125 per hour.

“It’s a decent income generator in the summer,” says Harmon. “It’s used Thursday through Sunday non-stop.”

JEFFERSONVILLE

The Red Devils of Jeffersonville are on pace to debut The Motz Group-installed turf infield on Don Poole Field in 2020.

There was a groundbreaking ceremony in late November and the project funded by Jeffersonville alum John Schnatter (aka Papa John) went full steam ahead.

“We’re blessed,” says Jeff head coach Derek Ellis. “We would have never had a turf infield or upgrades to our baseball field if it wasn’t for Mr. Schnatter’s generosity.”

Upgrades in the works also call for a new scoreboard, outfield fence, dugout railings and more.

Ellis says the Kentucky Bluegrass in the outfield was in really good shape.

The coach says his players should have no problem making the transition to the new infield surface.

“We live in an era now where these kids are playing on turf fields (like the one at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.) in the summer,” says Ellis. “(Turf) makes you a better fielder with its pretty true consistent playability. Natural surface is a little more aggressive than artificial surface. Of course, it depends on how high or low the grass is cut.”

Ellis notes a turf field is not maintenance-free. The high-traffic areas must be attended so the fibers stand tall.

But the prep time has been cut down considerably.

“Now we’re doing some player development,” says Ellis. “If it’s 35 degrees and the sun’s out it’s like 45 degrees on the turf.

“I’m excited about this. Practices will run smoother. We can get a lot more accomplished.”

Todd Satterly is the Jeffersonville AD.

JENNINGS COUNTY

New baseball and softball fields were in the works at Jennings County in North Vernon, Ind., and the decision was later made to put turf on both diamonds for 2020.

Former Wabash College head baseball coach Cory Stevens is JC’s athletic director and Trent Hardisty is the Panthers head baseball coach.

“We have the ability to get out there much, much earlier in the year,” says Stevens. “It’s not maintenance-free, but we no longer need tarps, rakes or any of those things.

“It’s extremely exciting.”

Stevens says more teams are likely to schedule games at Jennings County.

“Hometown fans get to see your team play a lot more often,” says Stevens. “We have the convenience of being able to play anytime as long as its not lightning or pouring at game time. It also frees up grounds staff for other things.”

Stevens says there will be a standard rental fee for outside teams.

“We would like to generate revenue in the summer,” says Stevens. “We’d like to host as much as we could.”

The Motz Group-installed turf on the baseball field will be on the infield and in foul territory behind the plate, extending to the back cut of the infield. The actual product from The Motz Group is called Triple Play. It’s 2 inches thick in the grass areas and 1.625 inches in the skinned areas. The batter’s boxes, mound and bullpens are turf as well.

Stevens says putting in turf is represents a significant cost savings over time. There will be less rainouts and makeups and less required field maintenance.

The project was paid for by a bond issued to the school corporation.

JC’s football field was converted to synthetic turf in 2018.

LAKE CENTRAL

Lake Central in St. John, Ind., marked its fifth spring with a turf baseball field in 2019.

Many of the outdoor athletic areas for the Indians, including football (2015 was the first season) and softball (since 2014), are covered by FieldTurf. The baseball field is shared with the Indians soccer programs.

“We’re able to do some things other schools can’t,” says LC head baseball coach Mike Swartzentruber. “Ours is all turf – including the mound. It’s one less thing you have to deal with from a maintenance standpoint.

“I don’t miss that for sure.

“In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve played about 20 games a year at our place (with games scheduled on the road moved to Lake Central). We always get our allotted games in.”

Duneland Athletic Conference games are scheduled on consecutive weekdays and both will often by contested at Lake Central.

While programs with grass and dirt field have to buy materials (clay, diamond dry etc.) every year. That’s not the case at Lake Central.

LC’s old varsity field — now used by the junior varsity — is grass. The JV softball field has a turf infield and grass outfield.

Swartzentruber says maintenance on a turf field includes replaces the rubber pellets and sand in the sliding areas.

“With all the kids it takes about 10 minutes,” says Swartzentruber. The mound is held in place by velcro.

The coach says outside teams have asked to use the field while getting ready for regional or semistate play and there is a rental fee involved.

“We’re pretty particular on who uses it,” says Swartzentruber. “We want to makes sure it stays as nice as possible for as long as possible.

“We’re on it a ton. Other sports will be on it some. Freshmen football team practices on it a lot.”

Swartzentruber emailed all the teams on the Indians schedule to let them no that sunflower seeds, gum, colored drinks and metal spikes are not allowed. Teams can wear  turf shoes, tennis shoes or molded cleats.

The field has the same dimensions as Victory Field in Indianapolis.

“Our field is really, really big,” says Swartzentruber. Home runs are a rarity at LC.

LC AD Chris Enyeart explains why turf was adopted at his school.

“Northwest Indiana weather very unpredictable in the spring seasons,” says Enyeart. “The heaviest rain needs an hour to be ready to go. Maintenance is much easier.

“Tryouts have been outside every year we’ve had it. Some teams stuck in the gym two or three weeks behind us.”

Enyeart notes that when snow doesn’t melt on grass fields, it turns to mud.

Not so with turf.

LOGANSPORT

The Logansport Berries have sported turf at Jim Turner Field since the 2016 season. The school turf down on its football, softball and baseball fields at the same time.

Logansport AD Brian Strong says the total project cost just over $2 million. Previous debt was refinanced and and taxes did not go up.

Strong cites the advantages of turf.

“In northern Indiana, it’s a challenge to get on those fields in early spring for practices etc.,” says Strong. “We’re always worried about over-use (noting that soccer teams and youth leagues also play on the field).

“It’s been a great investment in our community. We have so many different programs taking advantage of it.”

Strong estimates that the Berries wind up hosting 18 to 20 baseball games per season.

Maintenance generally means pulling a groomer weekly behind the Gator.

“We want to keep it looking nice,” says Strong. “It takes about the same time or less than mowing. We were probably mowing every other day in-season (with grass).

The facilities have been rented out to small colleges around the state and allowed travel baseball and softball organizations to use it for free.

Colleges begin their seasons in mid-February and have been able to play on Turner Field’s turf.

New Berries head baseball coach Dan Frye remembers all the time Jim Turner Sr. and Jim Turner Jr. put into the original facility.

“We had a beautiful surface when we had a natural field,” says Frye. “They put in countless hours. It was a great field to play on even back in the day.

“But now won’t have rainouts so much and the care and maintenance has gone way down.”

MOORESVILLE

The Mooresville Pioneers took to the SprintTurf-installed FieldTurf for the third season in 2019. There’s no natural grass or dirt on the diamond at all.

“As long as its not pouring down rain, you can pretty much play on it,” says Mooresville head baseball coach Eric McGaha. “There’s not any weather condition you can not play through (short of thunder and lightning).

“You don’t have to put down material to dry the field, It’s dry within 10 minutes of when rain stops. Our diamond (prior to turf) just held too much water. One to 1 1/2 inches of rain would take two or three days to totally dry out.”

“It’s been a really, really good investment for us.”

Mooresville also put turf on its football and softball fields.

McGaha says the crushed rubber inside the fiber of the new turf makes it bouncy and soft to slide on.

“There not a ton of maintenance involved,” says McGaha. “We can use that extra time to practice and get better.

“You want those guys to have opportunities to practice or play. That’s why they’re playing baseball.

“The kids realize they’re in a very fortunate situation.”

Mooresville hosted a southern semistate.

“We got good, positive feedback,” says McGaha.

Because of the warranty, Mooresville does not allow outside groups to play on the field. The baseball diamond is used by the freshmen football team and physical education classes.

“We don’t rent it out,” says Mooresville AD Mike Mossbrucker. “A number of universities have asked us to play, particularly on our softball field.

“We don’t want to overuse it. It stands to reason the more teams you put out there the more the wear and tear is. There is a life expectancy. We’re just not taking any chances.”

NOBLESVILLE

While the Noblesville Millers do not have turf on Dunker Field (varsity), the adjacent JV field with the same dimensions does sport AstroTurf as of the fall of 2019.

“It’s a big help for us in terms of training,” says Noblesville head baseball coach Justin Keever. “We have three teams (two JV and one varsity).”

Keever says turf fields tend to respond in a more consistent way.

“Not all natural fields respond the same,” says Keever. “The grass is higher or lower. Some are fluffy. Some have high lips. Some don’t.

“The Dunk is very quick. We cut it short. It’s like a billiards table out there.”

Leah Wooldridge is AD at Noblesville, where they will host a 2020 tournament featuring Carmel, Penn and St. X of St. Louis.

NORTHRIDGE

Construction has started for a new athletic complex at the Middlebury, Ind., school. The Motz Group will be putting down turf for football/track, softball and baseball. The new digs are to debut in 2020-21. Northridge AD says the project costs nearly $15 million.

“We didn’t have to raise any taxes,” says Harms. “That’s huge. That gets everybody excited.

“It’ll be nice not have to worry about the weather as much. It could rain all day and you could still get out and play. The turnaround is so much quicker.”

Harms says the two existing varsity fields — baseball and softball — will become JV fields.

“Everything will be here on campus for the first time,” says Harms, noting that JV games have been contested at Middlebury Little League. “It had a lot to do with putting in new fields. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had an upgrade to our outdoor faculties.

“It also opens door to hosting sectionals etc. which we couldn’t do before. We’ve already been asked to host both baseball and softball sectionals (in 2021).”

Count Raiders head coach Andrew Brabender among the elated.

“I’m super-excited about it,” says Brabender. “I wasn’t a fan of (turf) as a player. It just makes sense in northern Indiana. You’re really not counting on decent weather until the first of May.”

According to the coach, the new field will have a tire and sand ratio in the infield different than the outfield and there will be walnuts on the warning track that will crunch below fielders’ feet.

Brabender says getting outside after the snow melts means constantly rolling the grass field.

“The ball is never a true roll,” says Brabender. “It always has some kind of bounce.”

Brabender has used college teammate at Hannibal-LaGrange as a resource. Neil Richardson is the head baseball coach at Fox High School in Missouri, where there has been a turf infield and grass outfield for years.

Field maintenance at Northridge’s current grass field takes about 45 minutes to an hour a day when it does not rain and that duty falls to Brabender and his coaching staff.

NORTHWESTERN

Northwestern in Kokomo, Ind., had 50 acres of athletic complex to maintain and needed to do some safety upgrades bring all of fields into a small area, according to AD and former Tigers head baseball coach Dan Armstrong.

So Northwestern wound up with new football, softball and baseball fields installed by SprinTurf. Soccer uses all three multi-purpose fields. The first spring for baseball was in 2018.

“I’m a huge proponent for having high school turf,” says Armstrong. “(Instead of) maintaining the field, (athletes) can get home, get something to eat and get their homework done.”

Armstrong notes that the year prior to putting turf on the football field, it was used for 61 hours. The year after turf saw it host 137 events plus practices.

Even though there were eight inches of rain on baseball/softball sectional week, the games were still played.

“The last time we hosted sectional, rain pushed the final to Thursday and the regional was Saturday,” says Armstrong.

Northwestern has an all-rubber infield.

“It has no sand in it,” says Armstrong. “It plays like a (grass and dirt) baseball field. It’s not real bouncy. The fields are not abrasive.

“We wanted to focus on our kids. We play games at 6 p.m. (and use LED lights when necessary). We get bigger crowds. Plus it’s warmer on the turf.

“It’s been worth every penny we’ve spent on it. I just love it.”

Armstrong says fields need to be groomed for every 50 to 100 hours of use. Rakes and other equipment has been donated to youth programs.

“Gum is devastating,” says Armstrong. “It melts into the carpet. We’ve banned all nuts from our facility.”

Northwestern head baseball coach Ryan Ward considers himself a purist.

“I miss the tractor a little bit,” says Ward. “But instead of chalking or lining, I can get to my wife sooner. But extra reps is what it all boils down to.”

The turf also allows for Northwestern to host a Howard County tournament (with Eastern, Taylor and Western)) the first week of the season.

PENN

The Penn Kingsmen had The Motz Group install turf on varsity baseball and softball fields in Mishawaka, Ind., in time to practice on them in the fall of 2019 and will debut them for game play in 2020.

“I never thought of it,” says Penn head baseball coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “I thought it was out-of-reach.

“(The administration) got the ball rolling and got it done.”

Dikos sees many positives to turf on Jordan Automotive Group Field.

“We get on there a lot sooner and stay out there a lot longer,” says Dikos. “We can do a lot more things outside. We don’t have to worry about gym space.”

Marketed as a multi-use field, the band also practices on the lighted baseball diamond. Dikos also takes his P.E. classes onto the rug. The field is also marked for soccer use.

Dikos attended a workout on maintaining the field, which involves redistributing and adding rubber pellets and sometimes sand in heavy-use areas.

“Kids will be able to get home a lot sooner,” says Dikos. (With the grass and dirt field), every kid had a job (rake etc.). Repair now is so much quicker.

“The varsity dirt we took to the JV field. We fixed it up pretty nice.”

Penn has to coordinate practice and game schedules for three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen.

Jeff Hart is the Kingsmen’s AD.

PROVIDENCE

The Pioneers of Our Lady of Providence had Triple Play Turf installed on the baseball infield in the fall of 2015 and played the first season on it in 2016. The football/soccer field was turfed before that.

“We were just so pleased with the results on our football field,” says Providence AD Mickey Golembeski. “Let’s do what we can on the baseball field based on what we could raise.”

Golembeski says the project was funded by “in kind” donations by alumni.

“I’m guessing it cost in the $250,000 to $300,000 range,” says Golembeski. “But this include a complete re-do of the Bermuda (grass) outfield.”

Since Providence is private and no public monies were involved, the Pioneers and their feeder programs are the only ones to use it.

“With a baseball field, the wear and tear is much quicker and faster than a football field,” says Golembeski. “Proper grooming and maintenance makes a world of difference.”

Players replaces product and brushes it in all those locations after every game and practice. It gives kids pride and ownership in their area.

“It has to be done on a daily basis,” says Golembeski. “But it’s very quick and easy and takes much less time (the maintaining a all-grass and dirt field).

“The athletic department will groom the field with pull-behind brushes — very corse bristles used in a specific pattern — to refurbish and redistribute the base.

“In the long run, it’s going to save us hundreds of thousands of dollars of when we’re going to have a replacement.”

Count Providence head baseball coach Scott Hutchins as a turf fan.

“There’s a lot of things to like,” says Hutchins. “Not having to deal with rainouts in wonderful. “I loved working on the field.”

But on rainy days, he take sponges to it during his planning period. Raking was a daily occurrence.

“Jokingly, I tell people my wife likes it more than I do,” says Hutchins. “I’m at home more and not working on the field.”

DANVILLEFIELD

The combination turf/grass baseball field at Danville (Ind.) Community High School. (Danville Community High School Photo)LAKECENTRALTURFFIELDThe turf baseball field at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Lake Central High School Photo)

DAVEALEXANDERFIELDBISHOPCHATARD

Dave Alexander Field — the baseball diamond at Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School — has had turf since the 2013 season. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Simmons seizes hardware in first season leading North Posey Vikings

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Posey High School’s baseball team got to hoist the sectional trophy again in 2018.

The last time the Vikings had earned the hardware was in 2006 when the program went on to the second of back-to-back IHSAA Class 2A state championships with Mike Swartzentruber as head coach.

North Posey went 22-10 last spring, won the 2A Tell City Sectional and saw the season end in the Austin Regional final with a loss to eventual state runner-up Southridge.

Pitcher Shane Harris and outfielder Jarrett Motz made the all-Pocket Athletic Conference as juniors while infielder Camden Bender received honorable mention as a sophomore.

The Vikings finished 5-3 and tied for third place in the PAC (which also includes Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City).

The first season as North Posey head coach was a special one for Jesse Simmons.

After eight seasons in charge at Princeton (Ind.) Community High School, Simmons came to North Posey, where he also works in the guidance department as coordinator for student programs, testing and scholarships.

During his time at Princeton Community, he spent part of his summers managing Princeton American Legion Post 25.

Simmons, a graduate of Gibson Southern High School in Fort Branch, Ind., played for an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jim Reid) in high school and a National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer (Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University) his first two years of college.

He played two more seasons at Oakland City (Ind.) University for head coach T-Ray Fletcher. Toss in the lessons he gained from playing football at Gibson Southern for head coach John Obermeier and that has formed Simmons as a coach.

“You pick stuff from everybody,” says Simmons. “(Reid) was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was always upfront. That’s what I try to do. To a fault, I’m almost too truthful.

“(Reid) was also big on the little things.”

A third baseman in high school, Simmons was moved to shortstop at Vincennes when the starter got hurt.

Blemker was known for his passion.

“Everyday he expected things,” says Simmons of Blemker. “This is how it’s going to be.”

The fiery Blemker, who died in 2012, won 1,178 games during a storied career. At the time of his retirement in 2006, that was the most coaching wins in NJCAA Division II history.

Simmons recalls how Obermeier wanted his athletes to “take care of business” and also had a good working relationship with coaches of other sports. They shared athletes at Gibson Southern.

“(Fletcher) is still a big part of my life,” says Simmons, who not only played for T-Ray’s Mighty Oaks but helped coach them during his fifth year of college while pursuing his master’s degree. “That’s when I got the bug for coaching.”

Heading into his second season at North Posey, Simmons’ coaching staff includes Lennie “Peanut” Titzer, James Hensley, Lance Fleener, Dustin May and Jeremy Lavanchy. Titzer was Simmons’ Babe Ruth League coach and an assistant at Gibson Southern.

The Vikings are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, Perry Central, South Spencer and Tell City. North Posey has an enrollment of about 500.

North Posey plays on a field behind the school that it shares with Cub (seventh and eighth graders playing 15 to 20 games in the spring) and Poseyville Babe Ruth programs (Red and Black teams are part of an eight-team league with biggest part being from Gibson County).

Simmons says he hopes to have an American Legion team — Poseyville Post 278 /New Harmony Post 370 — playing their next summer. The plan is to play weekday games to accommodate the weekend travel ball schedules of his players.

Jesse and Courtney Simmons reside in Haubstadt, Ind. with their five children — sons Jeter (9) and Jensen (8) and daughters Albany (7), Vera (6) and Savannah (1).

The oldest of three children, Jesse’s parents are Jim and Diane Hornby. His siblings are Amber and Quentin.

A New York Yankees fan, Jesse Simmons’ favorite players are Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

“(Jeter) thrived under pressure,” says Simmons. “He was a good leader. He was never afraid of the moment and the spotlight is a tough place to play.”

Mattingly, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer, is from nearby Darmstadt, Ind., and played high school baseball at Evansville Memorial.

NORTHPOSEYVIKINGS

JESSESIMMONSFAMILY

Jesse Simmons, the head baseball coach at North Posey High School in Poseyville, Ind., poses with his family. Front row (from left) Jeter Simmons, Vera Simmons, Albany Simmons and Jensen Simmons. Back row (from left) Jesse Simmons, Savannah Simmons and Courtney Simmons.

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

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.

LAKECENTRALINDIANS

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.