Tag Archives: North Judson

Mollenkopf entering 14th season of leading Caston Comets

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal at a small school in Fulton County, Ind.

The Comets of Caston Junior/Senior High School (an IHSAA Class 1A member with an enrollment of about 215 in the top four grades) take pride in their facility — known as the “The Crater” — and the ball that is played there near the town of Fulton.

The man in charge of program since the 2006 season is Blake Mollenkopf.

Since he arrived on-campus, Caston has overhauled its field, adding lights and a new press box, refurbishing the dugouts and upgrading the playing surface.

“It’s one of the better fields in this part of the state,” says Mollenkopf. “Our kids, school and community are very proud of it.”

The Comets hosted sectional and regional tournaments in 2018.

Caston is part of a sectional grouping with North Miami, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central. The Comets won the first sectional crown in school history when Mollenkopf’s squad hoisted the trophy at Tri-County in 2012.

Caston is a member of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference (with Culver Community, Knox, LaVille, North Judson-San Pierre, Pioneer, Triton and Winamac). Each team plays the other twice to determine the champion. LaVille won the crown in 2018.

“It’s a very balanced conference,” says Mollenkopf.

HNAC’s 14 conference games are played with home-and-home series either on Monday or Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and a Saturday doubleheader, depending on the week.

Mollenkopf says participation numbers tend  to hover from 16 to 24 at the high school for varsity and junior varsity squads.

“It’s important to have a JV, especially at the 1A level to develop kids,” says Mollenkopf. “We try to play up (in class), especially at the JV level. We want to challenge them and prepare them for varsity baseball.”

The 2019 season will be the third for the IHSAA pitch count rule. This year, the parameters will be the same for varsity and JV (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).

“We’ve always stressed arm care here,” says Mollenkopf. “We do a lot in the fall and in January and February. At the varsity level, there’s very little influence. I’ve noticed it more on the JV level, where we’ve not had strike throwers all the way through.”

Mollenkopf says a focus on throwing strikes should be able to keep pitch counts down.

Assistant coaches are Adam Goller (14th year), Nick Stuber (ninth year), Matt Gibson (second year) and Brandon Kinser (first year). Stuber will run the JV team this spring.

Caston Athletic League (for ages 5-12) and a junior high club (for grades 7-8) are feeders for the high school program.

Though not affiliated with the school, the junior high team does play its games in the spring on the high school diamond.

In the summer, some Caston players take part in the Babe Ruth League in Logansport. There are others, including Gavin Mollenkopf (Blake’s oldest of two sons), who play travel ball for the Indiana Chargers.

There are some high school summer workouts and games and a team camp at Bethel College.

Caston graduate Seth Zartman is head baseball coach at Bethel. Ethan Zartman played at Caston for Mollenkopf, and then for big brother at Bethel.

Last summer, players from Plymouth and Rochester joined the Comets. In the past, South Adams and Tri-County have participated in the camp.

Mollenkopf is a graduate of Convoy Crestview High School, where he played for Jim Wharton, a member of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association and ACME baseball halls of fame.

“He’s a great mentor,” says Mollenkopf of Wharton. “There’s so respect for him in that community. He’s still another ear to bend. He had a big impact on my life and my love for baseball.”

Mollenkopf played four seasons (2000-03) at Huntington University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Frame.

Frame was known for his attention to detail, practice preparation and communication skills.

“I remember the Friday morning devotions,” says Mollenkopf. “He met with small groups of players. He tried to make an impact as future husbands, fathers and people.

“I went there to play baseball, but came out as a better man because of him, too.”

Mollenkopf received an elementary education degree at Huntington. Before coaching at Caston, he spent two seasons as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares at Taylor High School.

“He’s a special individual,” says Mollenkopf of Phares. “I learned how to interact with players, handling parent meetings and working with the administration

driving an hour back and forth.”

At the time, Mollenkopf was making the commute from Fulton County to Kokomo.

“There were so many meals and more he and (his wife) Martha provided for me.”

Mollenkopf is married to a Caston graduate. Blake and Stephanie have four children — eighth grader Kinzie (13), fifth grader Gavin (11), third grader Logan (9) and kindergartener Remy (6). All of them attend Caston schools.

After a few years on the job, Blake Mollenkopf resigned last May as Caston athletic director. Besides coaching baseball, he is an elementary physical education teacher and is involved with youth football and eighth grade girls basketball.

CASONCOMETS

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The Mollenkopfs (clockwise from upper left): Blake, Stephanie, Kinzie, Gavin, Remy and Logan. Blake Mollenkopf is head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind.

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Blake Mollenkopf has been head baseball coach at Caston Junior/Senior High School in Fulton, Ind., since the 2006 season.

 

 

Lawler seeing that success breeds success with LaVille Lancers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Buying into the multi-sport athlete idea and feeding off the success of other sports, the LaVille Lancers is enjoying a stellar 2018 season under fourth-year head coach Brian Lawler.

Heading into a home game Friday, May 18 against John Glenn, the Lancers are 20-2.

LaVille ran the table in the Hoosier North Athletic Conference, going 14-0. Pioneer (10-4) was second, followed by Knox (8-6), Winamac (7-6), North Judson (7-7), Triton (5-9), Caston (4-9) and Culver Community (0-14). Winamac is to visit Caston in the final HNAC game Friday, May 18.

“We’re a small school,” says Lawler, who coaches and teaches physical education in a LaVille Junior/Senior High building with around 350 students in the top four grades. “We believe in sharing athletes and providing opportunities for kids all year-round.

“We want to give them the best experience they can.”

Athletic director/head football coach Will Hostrawser leads a staff which coordinates their summer workouts so athletes can attend sessions in multiple sports.

Hostrawser has a baseball coaching background.

“He lets all his coaches coach,” says Lawler of Hostrawser. “But he’s always there if we want to pick his brain about something.”

As for success breeding success, two examples come in football and boys basketball. The Lancers went 8-5 on the gridiron last fall and 23-1 on the hardwood last winter.

The past four years, LaVille is 35-14 in football and 76-24 in boys basketball under head coach Michael Edison. Corey Duncan’s girls basketball squad was 16-8 in 2017-18.

Before playing baseball at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University and earning his teaching degree at Bethel College, Lawler was a football and baseball athlete at South Bend St. Joseph High School. He graduated in 1999.

Before coming to LaVille, Lawler was a St. Joseph assistant for eight seasons on the staff of John Gumpf.

What does being a multi-sport athlete mean to him?

“Competing throughout the year and learning lessons from different coaches,” says Lawler. “It’s about being coachable and that translates into whatever sport that kid is doing at the time.”

The HNAC plays home-and-home two-game series with some doubleheaders, making it extra important to develop pitching depth.

“It forces you not the see that No. 1 twice,” says Lawler, who is assisted by Mark Elliot, Scott Wierczorek and Bryce Bustamante. “And with the 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) and our small roster (there’s 15 players in the program for a varsity and junior varsity schedule), we need to get as many pitchers as we can.”

The 2017 Lancers went 20-7 and graduated some quality senior pitchers. The current team has just one senior — first baseman Tyler Hollon. There is also a good mix of juniors, sophomores and a few freshmen.

Lawler counts catcher Reese Gallup and left-handed pitcher/outfielder Devon Schoff among the junior standouts and third baseman Jimmy Fischer, first baseman Isaiah Herbster, right-hander/outfielder Nick Moore and shortstop/right-hander Connor Wieczorek as some of the top sophomores.

LaVille plays its home games on its campus near Lakeville though it does have access to nearby Newton Park should field conditions call for a change of venue.

The Lancers’ non-conference schedule includes Argos, Bethany Christian, Bremen, Culver Military, Jimtown, John Glenn, Oregon-Davis, Rochester, South Bend Adams and South Central.

LaVille is in the IHSAA Class 2A Westview Sectional along with Bremen, Central Noble, Eastside, Prairie Heights and Westview. The Lancers have won three sectional baseball titles (1968, 1974, 1991).

Lawler and wife Sara reside in South Bend.

LAVILLELANCERS

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LaVille Junior/Senior High School baseball coach Brian Lawler (right) poses with lone 2018 senior Tyler Hollon. The Lancers have reached the 20-win plateau again this spring.

 

Selective offensive approach helps Steinhilber’s Hebron Hawks

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Working the count” is working for Hebron High School baseball.

This offensive approach has been good to the Hawks the past four seasons and has been key as Hebron (29-3) has advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate opposite Wapahani (18-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

A batter who is patient and trying to “get ahead in the count” or get a pitch he can hit hard is often said to “work the count” or “work the pitcher.”

Seventh-year Hebron head coach John Steinhilber and his assistants — Sean Riley (first base), Chris Wiltfang (bench), Jake Wheeler (pitching) and Tim Joyce (preseason and outfield) — have been selling and the players have been buying.

“They’ve bought into our overall approach to hitting,” says Steinhilber. “We battle in counts.

“We wait to strike.”

Steinhilber and company have looked on in admiration at the number of pitches that recent Boston Red Sox batters have seen per at-bat.

Why not try to make it work on the Hawks’ level?

“(The Red Sox) see a lot of pitches. They make the pitchers work,” says Steinhilber. “We’ve done that over the last four years and it’s really hurt us.

“Guys don’t feel like they’re behind the 8-ball when they get behind two strikes. Our guys really relax. It’s something we really work on.”

Steinhilber said it is likely that more and more teams will be adopting the approach in the coming years and working the pitcher, especially in light of the new IHSAA 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).

“You want to make that guy throw extra,” says Steinhilber. “Getting into the other team’s bullpen, especially in high school, is really key.”

The count has also got pitchers and their coaches thinking about their approach.

“Now you get a kid 0-2, do you put him away to save your pitch count or work him like you normally would?,” says Steinhilber. “It’s probably a struggle with all high school teams in all states. Kids in high school think they’ve got to strike everybody out. They don’t trust their defense.

“Pitching to your defense is going to help you in the long run.”

Hebron won its first baseball sectional crown in 1976. No. 2 came in Steinhilber’s second season of 2012. That was also the year the Hawks won their first regional title.

“I played a small part in that,” says Steinhilber. “I have a great staff and we’ve had really great kids come through.”

Hebron’s Kyle Joyce was an IHSBCA All-Star in 2013.

Steinhilber played baseball and basketball at Boone Grove High School, where he graduated in 1986. He played baseball at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., then coached the sport for three while finishing his degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.

Mike Moyzis was the Pumas head coach for a team that included Rick O’Dette, who just finished his 17th season as SJC head coach with the school and program closing up shop in 2017.

Steinhilber was an assistant for a few seasons with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean, the last in 1997 when the 59ers advanced to the championship game of the single-class semistate.

Basketball coaching called Steinhilber’s name and he was a head boys coach for 19 years, retiring at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. He worked six seasons at Calumet (1998-99 to 2003-04), six at South Central of Union Mills (2004-05 to 2009-10) and seven at Hebron (2010-11 to 2016-17) with sectional championships coming in his second seasons at both Calumet and Hebron.

Steinhilber is in his third year as Hawks athletic director, a position that gets especially crazy during the spring season.

“I have an athletic secretary (Susan Spurr) that is awesome,” says Steinhilber. “If I didn’t have her I’d be lost. I’ve also good pretty good coaches and a principal (Mark Lutze) that supports everything.”

The ’17 Hawks bested North Judson, North Newton and Boone Grove by a combined 32-1 to win the Boone Grove Sectional then earned 4-3 triumphs against Eastside and Hammond Bishop Noll to reign at the Whiting Regional.

Hebron and South Central both went 6-1 to tie for the regular-season title in the Porter County Conference, which generally played on Mondays and Fridays. The Hawks then bested the Satellites in the PCC tournament championship game played the day before the sectional opener.

Other members of the conference are Boone Grove, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

To prepare for the turf at Kokomo, Steinhilber took his team to Lake Central for a practice. But the surface is not foreign to many of the Hawks.

“A lot of kids play travel and have played on turf,” says Steinhilber. “That’s a good thing for us.”

HEBRONHAWKS

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John Steinhilber, with wife Melissa, is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Hebron High School in Porter County. The Hawks play Wapahani in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

 

Valparaiso artist Weinberg commemorates Cubs with painting

rbilogosmallBy STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jay Weinberg learned he had an artistic side when he was a little boy growing up in Knox.

“I was 8 and I made this sketch,” says Weinberg three decades later. “Someone asked, ‘did you do that?’ and I was hooked.”

Even before then, Weinberg got hooked on a certain baseball team. He couldn’t help it. Everyone in his family — it seemed — were Chicago Cubs fans.

Father Jerry, who now lives in North Judson, mother Mary Lorenz and stepfather Mary Lorenz, who reside in LaPorte, brother David Weinberg, who lives across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago, and sister Michelle Downs, who calls Knox home, are all big supports of the Cubbies.

Jay recalls growing up looking with Cubs mural with players from the 1980’s, which probably helped fuel his love for art and the Chicago National League Ball Club.

When Jay moved to started attending Valparaiso High School, where he would graduate in 1997, he spent a lot of his time watching or listening to the Boys in Blue. He especially enjoyed listening to Ron Santo, color man to play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes.

“Ron Santo was always one of my favorites,” says Weinberg. “I’ll be the first to admit that after Ron died (in 2010 due to complications of bladder cancer and diabetes, two years before his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame), I lost a little bit of it.”

Weinberg never lost his love of creativity. He commuted from Valpo to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He took the skills gained there to create works in many formats. He also made music with a band called The Energy Commission with songs ranging from pop to swing to hip hop. He’s also a personal trainer, marketer, videographer and entrepreneur (he’s the founder of the artunityapp).

“My thing is to creatively communicate whatever is on my mind or in my heart at the time,” says Weinberg. “I don’t have a specific style.”

He has done paintings of Santo for family members and a chance to raise funds for the Ron Santo Foundation.

When the Cubs snapped their 108-year drought and won the 2016 World Series, Weinberg had to commemorate the moment with a piece of art. He did a few and girlfriend Kelly Carey suggested they be listed on the Valparaiso Garage Sale Facebook page.

“Ten seconds after I posted, the first 10 spoken for,” Weinberg said. The post drew more than 500 comments from all over the globe. “It was really humbling experience for sure.”

Weinberg will never forget Game 7 of the World Series. While Kelly was asleep in the next room, Jay was in front of the TV and all kinds of nervous.

“I was jumping up and down and biting my nails,” says Weinberg.

Emotion really poured out a few days before Christmas when the family was gathered in the basement at his sister Michelle’s house. That’s when Jerry Weinberg got his copy of the Cubs painting, which he calls “Field of Dreams.” (“paint it and they will come.”)

Tears flowed while Jay captured the moment on his camera.

“I taught you well,” Jerry said to his son that December day.

After that, the video went viral and wound up on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Jay has also entered a contest to have his father be one of the World Series ring bearers on April 10 at Wrigley. That date happens to be Jerry’s 66th birthday.

“That’s serendipity,” says Jay Weinberg. “The stars are aligning.”

Weinberg will be selling and signing prints of that painting plus an embellished limited edition canvas from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 at the South Bend Chocolate Cafe, 122 S. Michigan, South Bend.

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One of the limited edition embellished canvas “Field of Dreams” paintings will be on sale by artist Jay Weinberg Saturday, Feb. 18 in South Bend. He will also sell and sign prints of the artwork.