Tag Archives: Northwest Crossroads Conference

Fun important part of baseball for Mikolajczyk, Munster Mustangs

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

As part of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan’s coaching staff at Munster High School, Mike Mikolajczyk saw the importance of keeping the sport fun for players.
“You’ve got to be loose,” says Mikolacjzyk, who enters his 24th year in the program and first as head coach in 2022. Only IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Niksic and Shinkan have held that title before Mikolajczyk, who was Mustangs freshmen coach for 20 seasons and varsity assistant for three.
He is a 1989 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, Ill., where he played four years of baseball for Braves coach Tom Johnson and earned all-conference and all-area honors as a junior and senior and was a team captain. He spent a half year with the baseball team at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Teaching from Purdue University Calumet and a master’s degree in Arts and Language Arts from Governors State University.
Mikolajczyk (Mick-O-Lie-Check) teaches sixth grade Reading and Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster.
In 2021, the Mustangs were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central and Merrillville (host). Munster won its 13th sectional title — the first since 2016.
“We have 11 guys coming back from last year’s team,” says Mikolajczyk. “We will be pretty senior strong.”
The Class of 2022 includes right-hander Brady Ginaven (Indiana State University commit), left-hander Jake Thometz (uncommitted) and right-hander Will Moell (Johns Hopkins University commit) at the top of the mound rotation.
“I’m pretty excited about our top three pitchers,” says Mikolajczyk. “I could put those guys against anybody in northwest Indiana and we’ll be competitive.”
Another key senior is outfielder/first baseman Tyler Lukowski. Juniors drawing D-I attention are outfielder Kozy Denham and outfielder/shortstop Kevin Hall.
Recent graduates moving on to college ball include 2020 graduates in right-hander Costa Sirounis (Indiana University), right-hander Will Melby (Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs) and infielder Ronnie Nowak (Marshalltown, Iowa, Community College). From 2021, there’s right-hander/third baseman and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Bryce Schaum (Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.), second baseman/catcher Ben Greiner (DePauw University) and middle infielder/outfielder Derrick Wiening (Purdue Northwest).
Munster (enrollment around 1,600) is located in Lake County and a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell).
The Mustangs plan to field three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen — in 2022 — and Mikolajczyk estimates there will be 45 to 50 in the program. The first time Munster had paid assistants was four years ago.
Mikolajczyk’s assistants include Matt Backs, volunteers Brian Boliek and Adam Musielak with the varsity, Mark Dye with the JV and an as-yet-to-be-named freshmen coach.
Backs, who coached one year at Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., and 27 years as Munster JV coach, will handle infielders and outfielders and coach first base. The Illinois State University graduate is a Project Lead The Way teacher at Wilbur Wright.
Boilek, who enters his fifth year on the staff who has more than two decades experience of coaching travel and American Legion ball, is a bench coach and handles strength and conditioning. He works in banking and finance.
Musielak was head coach for six years at Whiting (Ind.) High School and took the Oilers to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2019. He has 10 years of coaching experience for baseball, basketball and football. The Indiana University alum teaches Physical Education at Munster.
Dye is a Munster graduate who played at Earlham College In Richmond, Ind., and served a freshmen coach at Portage (Ind.) High School for six years. He teaches Social Studies at Munster. Infielders and catchers will be part of Mikolajczyk’s responsbilities.
Munster had 10 IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in September and early October with nearly 60 participants (not involved in fall sports). There were open fields and gyms with activity on Mike Niksic Field (which has a turf infield and grass outfielder), diamonds at Community Park, located next to the school and the home to Munster Little League and Munster Babe Ruth or the turfed football field.
“In fall workouts, we get an idea of who’s really dedicated to you and who’s not,” says Mikolajczyk.
An off-season weight program is baseball-specific and is geared toward flexibility and mobility.
“What we’re trying to emphasize is bigger, faster, stronger,” says Mikolajczyk. “We’re not trying to bulk up. It’s about maintenance and an injury-prevention type of thing.”
For the first time in program history, a 500-pound club (total for bench press, clean and jerk and deadlift) has been established to promote bonding and buy-in. Just before break, all 13 who attempted to qualify for a club made it and got a T-shirt. Qualifying is planned again in January and February.
Mikolajczyk says strength and conditioning training has drawn 30 to 35 participants each time without freshmen.
Little League (T-ball to age 12) and Babe Ruth (13-15) feed players to Munster High School. Several players are in travel ball with Morris Baseball, which is run by alum Bobby Morris.
Hal Morris, Bobby’s brother, is a Munster graduate who made it to the big leagues primarily as a first baseman (1988-2000) and is also in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. More recently, outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University (2014-17) and is now in the Chicago White Sox organization.
The Manous brothers — right-hander Connor (Class of 2016) and outfielder Garrett (Class of 2019 — were both on the IU roster in 2021.
An avid golfer, Mikolajczyk is a 7-handicap on the links. He also enjoys hunting. He lives in Frankfort, Ill., with significant other Maribel Soto Piccinini. She has a son named Troy (26).
Tanya Mikolajczyk, who was married to Mike, died of colon cancer in 2019.

Mike Mikolajczyk with 2021 sectional trophy earned by Munster (Ind.) High School.
Mike Mikolajczyk (left) and Maribel Soto Piccinini.

Howard highlighting importance of fundamentals with Hobart Brickies

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

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

Trent Howard
Trent Howard
Trent Howard

Alum VanWienen wants best for Kankakee Valley baseball

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

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

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

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

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

“I like our depth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

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

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

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Competitive drive fuels Indiana right-hander Manous

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Manous has experienced gains during his three baseball seasons at Indiana University.

Manous, a right-handed pitcher, graduated from Munster (Ind.) High School in 2016 at 165 pounds.

“I was pretty skinny,” says Manous, who Manous earned four baseball letters and three monograms in basketball with the Mustangs. 

Through weightlifting, proper eating and maturity, the 6-footer now weighs 195.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan, he struck out 106 batters in 64 1/3 innings and threw five complete games with a 0.76 earned run average as a Munster senior in 2016. He was Post-Tribune Player of the Year as a senior and a three-time all-Northwest Crossroads Conference selection. 

As a junior, Manous went 6-1 with an 1.56 ERA and 57 strikeouts. His sophomore season for the Mustangs produced a 7-1 mark, 0.48 ERA and 54 strikeouts.

“He was a real good mentor,” says Manous of Shinkan. “He was a good person I was able to talk to if I ever needed anything.

“You’re always able to have fun when you’re playing with him.”

Mike Hackett was head basketball coach during Manous’ Munster career.

Manous spent June to December of 2016 at the University of Miami (Fla.), transferred to IU and sat out the 2017 season.

At the start of his collegiate career, Manous threw a fastball that sat around 88 to 91 mph and occasionally hit 92 or 93.

Since Justin Parker joined the Hoosiers staff as pitching coach, he has helped make adjustments that has the righty sitting at 90 to 93. In 2019, he lit up the radar at 96.

“I’ve learned so much about pitching from him,” says Manous of Parker, who was brought in when Jeff Mercer was hired as head coach in the summer of 2018, making 2019 their first campaign in Bloomington. “He’s changed a lot of my career. He’s made me advance a lot more than I ever before.

“My velo jumped when he got to school. My curve ball got better. Growing up and maturing as a person — he helped with that, too.”

In three seasons on the mound for Indiana, Manous has made 40 appearances (three starts) with a 2-3 record, two saves, a 2.81 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67 2/3 innings. 

In the COVID 19-shortened 2020 season, the righty relieved in six of IU’s 15 games and was 0-0 with an 0.00 ERA. In eight innings, he fanned 12 and walked three.

What’s it like playing for a Mercer-coached team?

“It’s a lot of hard work and trust in the process,” says Manous. “Each day you’ve got to get better.

“You see results six months, a year later — as a lot of us have seen.”

During quarantine, Business major Manous tended to his online studies and worked out at the house then started training at Thrive Sport and Fitness Solutions — a facility co-owned by Mark Banter, Gloria Banter and Jesse Wilkening in Cedar Lake, Ind.

It was through Parker’s connections to Macon (Ga.) Bacon head coach Jimmy Turk that Manous landed with the Coastal Plain League team this summer. After logging a few innings with the Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the hurler reported to Macon June 25.

In six relief appearances, Manous is 0-0 with one save, an 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 8 2/3 innings. A recent four-seam was clocked at 94 mph and he’s had a spin rate as high as 2,450. Throwing from a high arm slot, he also uses a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up.

Like he’s done the past two seasons at Indiana, Manous has been working at the back of the bullpen.

His mindset — no matter where he gets into the game — is the same.

“Just be yourself and compete,” says Manous. “You don’t want to give up a run. That’s how I am in the first or the ninth inning. I don’t really change.

“You’ve got to be composed. The ball is going to be taken deep if you don’t execute your pitches.”

Manous, 22, cites his drive as his top athletic strength.

“I hate to lose in anything,” says Manous. “I’m always super competitive, It’s how I grew up.

“I hated losing to my dad or brother.”

Perry Manous is a computer software developer. Outfielder Garrett Manous (20) just completed his freshmen season at Indiana and plays for the Tropics in the Grand Park league this summer. Kelly Manous, wife of Perry and mother of the two boys, is a personal trainer.

Connor became the fourth Indiana pitcher on the Macon team, joining Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Braden Scott

Left-hander Bothwell (a Boone Grove High School graduate) is among the CPL’s strikeout leaders with 21 in 14 1/3 innings. Right-hander Litwicki (Lake Central) has whiffed 10 in seven innings. Southpaw Scott (Shakamak) has fanned 15 in 9 1/3 innings. The Bacon pitching coach is Josh Teichroew.

Manous did not play baseball last summer, but stayed at IU and worked to get stronger. In 2018, he played for the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps with Jamie Shevchik as head coach and Scott Landers as pitching coach. The summer of 2017 was spent with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers with Cody Piechocki as head coach.

Born in Dyer, Ind., Manous played his first organized baseball at Munster Little League. He went on to play for many travel ball teams, including the Indiana Playmakers and, during three high school summers, Prairie Gravel. His manager was Sam Sorce. Al Oremus is the organization’s founder.

Connor Manous, a 2016 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School, has pitched three baseball seasons (2018-20) at Indiana University, is this summer is with the Macon (Ga.) Bacon of the Coastal Plain League. (Indiana University Photos)
Connor Manous, a Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, has pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University and this summer is with the Coastal Plains League’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon. (Indiana University Photo)

Bogner keeping the bar set high for Highland Trojans baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tradition is an important concept for Highland (Ind.) High School baseball.

“We take a lot of pride in wearing our ‘H’ on our chest,” says John Bogner, who enters his sixth season as Trojans head coach and the 23rd in the program in 2019. “ We remember the kids who played at Highland previously. We want to have solid program that everyone should at least have on their radar.”

The 2018 Trojans went 22-8 and placed second to eventual IHSAA Class 3A state champion Andrean in the Northwest Crossroads Conference after posting a 21-8 mark in 2017.

Bogner (pronounced BOAG-ner) was hired at Highland as a math teacher and has coached football, wrestling and baseball at various levels. He was the head freshmen baseball coach his first five springs then a varsity assistant for 12.

That was under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller, who amassed more than 600 wins, nine sectional titles, four regionals and one semistate and sent dozens of players on to college baseball from 1982-2013. Two of Miller’s former players — outfielder Tony Terzarial and left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch — were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s hard to replace a Hall of Fame coach,” says Bogner. “But we try to keep the bar as he set it.”

Bogner says he also appreciated Miller’s organization, attention to detail, his ability to handle kids and his game strategy.

Two members of the Highland Class of 2018 — catcher Nick Anderson (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) and third baseman Damen Castillo (Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.) — on to college diamonds. Current senior right-handed pitcher Jordan Siska is committed to the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill.

To get some exposure for players and to give some a taste for travel, Highland will play in the early-season Super Prep Series hosted by Louisville Ballard.

Bogner asks his players to be focused on the field, take a disciplined approach at the plate and throw strikes with command on the mound.

“We want to do everything right,” says Bogner. “My players say, ‘you’re pretty old-fashioned.’

“I take that as a compliment.”

Depending upon the year, Highland generally has 45 to 55 players filling varsity, junior varsity and freshmen rosters.

That means about 16 to 18 with the varsity. Sometimes they rotate on road trips because of the capacity of activity buses.

“Our kids are good about knowing their roles,” says Bogner, who keeps his bench players active with scorebooks and spray charts and as bullpen catchers etc. “Highland’s always had really good kids. It’s made my job easier.”

This year, 22 sophomores indicated their interest in playing baseball for the Royal Blue and Gold.

The 2019 coaching staff will have Matt Bugajski and Bryan Gordon assisting with the varsity and Sam Michel leading the junior varsity. Volunteers at the JV and freshmen levels are Brian Lukich, Nik Mason and Will Kerber. A head freshmen coach is being sought.

The Trojans play on a on-campus diamond that sits along 41st Street. A donation by long-time Highland American Legion Post 180 manager George Bizoukas is bringing lights to the facility.

“This gives us some flexibility for practice times,” says Bogner. “And we can now host a sectional at the high school.”

Highland is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Lake Central, Lowell and Munster, the host for many years. The Trojans last won a sectional title in 2000.

Besides Highland and Andrean, the Northwest Crossroads Conference includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. The loop plays 10 games with home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bogner’s high school program is fed by Highland Little League and Highland Babe Ruth. He estimates about a third of his players play travel baseball.

“You have to play int he summer to beat schools like Lake Central and Munster,” says Bogner.

The 2019 season will mark the third that the IHSAA has adopted a pitch count rule (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 adapted to it,” says Bogner. “We were never guilty of blowing kids’ arms out (when the rule was 10 innings every three days). We used a lot of common sense.”

Bogner says he recently sent a letter to IHSBCA leadership lamenting that there are coaches out there that don’t show common sense with their pitches.

“You have to trust that your coach knows what’s going on and looks out for you,” says Bogner.

Prior to the rule and even since it has been put in place, Bogner has built up his pitchers arms in the winter. He has them working on pitch sequences and pitch-outs.

“By the end end of February bullpens, our goal is to be up to 80 pitches,” says Bogner. “But I don’t want my guys touching a baseball in December as far as throwing goes. You need to rest.”

This fall, the Trojans that were available to practice took part in a long toss program then players broke into positions. Bogner was coaching football, so practices were usually held late.

Bogner is a 1990 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School, where he played baseball for coach Jim Anderson.

“He taught us a lot about the game and its nuances,” says Bogner. “He wanted us to play with class. ‘Don’t play bush league’ was something he often said. He was a very good coach. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him.”

Anderson did not want his players focusing on their statistics.

“He’d say, ‘play the game right and the rest will take care of itself,” says Bogner, who went on to play two seasons as a catcher and designated hitter at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich.

Bogner recalls playing catch with Roadrunners coach Courtney Jasiak at the family cabin on Gravel Lake in Lawton, Mich., before committing to the school.

Jasiak had coached future big league star Derek Jeter at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School.

“I was like a sponge with that guy,” says Bogner of Jasiak. “He made me into a technician.”

Purdue University Calumet (now part of Purdue University Northwest) did not have a baseball team when Bogner went there to finish his degree.

Bogner did his student teaching at Calumet High School, where baseball head coach Woody Feeler (who had been his American Legion coach when he was in high school) let him run the show.

“It was like I was an associate head coach,” says Bogner. “I was neck deep.”

In the fall of 1996, he was hired at Highland and has been there ever since.

John is the middle son of Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute and Purdue University graduate Jack Bogner and Pam Schuhrke (her husband is Jim). Older brother Jeff lives in St. Louis and younger brother James is in Merrillville, Ind.

Married for 19 years, John and Mandy Bogner have two sons. Justin Bogner is a junior football, wrestling and baseball athlete at Highland. Jason Bogner is a Highland Middle School grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

2018 Trojan Logo

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John and Mandy Bogner have been married for 19 years. John is the head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. He also teaches math and coaches football and wrestling.

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John Bogner (left) and oldest son Justin Bogner share a moment on the football field as assistant coach and player. John Bogner is head baseball coach and Justin Bogner a player for Highland (Ind.) High School’s baseball program.

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Jason Bogner is the youngest son of John and Mandy Bogner. His father is head baseball coach at Highland (Ind.) High School. Jason is a seventh grader who plays football, basketball and baseball.

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John Bogner is entering his 23rd season as a coach in the Highland (Ind.) High School baseball program — the sixth as head coach — in 2019.

 

Hall of Famer Shinkan keeps Munster Mustangs loose and ready to play baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bob Shinkan is proof that you can be both laid-back and intense.

He’s been doing it as head baseball coach at Munster High School for decades.

“I expect 100 percent out of my players,” says Shinkan, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who heads into his 33rd season in 2018 with a 639-323-1 career mark. “I strive for perfection. I push them to a certain extent through my own personality.

“I’m not a fire-up guy but I’m as competitive as anybody can be. I’m laid back unless somebody is not hustling or paying attention. I try to keep things as loose as possible. Kids are going to excel not being tight.

“I want them excited and loose every time we play a ball game.”

Shinkan prepares his players in practice so they can play loose.

“I try to let the kids go out there and not put pressure on them during the games,” says Shinkan. “I don’t try to change too much as the game goes on.”

Shinkan, a 1971 Munster graduate, has been Mustangs baseball head coach since the 1986 season. He moved up from assistant following the tragic death of Hall of Famer Mike Niksic in a boating accident.

“He was old school and I loved it,” says Shinkan of Niksic. “He pushed you real hard and he expected a lot out of you. but gave you all the love that he had.

“I’ve been trying to follow the same tradition Mike had. But times are different and kids have changed. You have to adjust here and there.”

Shinkan played freshmen baseball at Ball State University and then got his undergraduate degree at the Muncie school and came back to Munster to begin his teaching career (he now is a geometry teacher). At the time, there were no coaching openings in boys sports so he started in girls track. He would go on to serve as head volleyball coach was on the Munster football staff of Indiana Football Hall of Famer Leroy Marsh from 1987-2015.

When he joined Niksic’s baseball staff a few years later, Shinkan found himself leading both the junior varsity and freshmen teams.

“It was interesting,” says Shinkan. “In the preseason, I had both teams practicing. Then games would start and the JV would plays Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and freshman on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a doubleheader on Saturday. We were playing games six days a week.

There were just three paid positions in Munster baseball — one varsity and two assistants — and that hasn’t changed.

“That’s the way Mike wanted it,” says Shinkan. “That’s the way we did things.”

Niksic assistants going back to 1965 include Ed Sherry, Don Kemaghan, George Sofianos, John Gott, Dave Knish, Mike Edwards, Bob Maicher, Ed Robertson and, of course, Bob Shinkan.

When Shinkan took over, he assigned one assistant to JV (currently Matt Backs) and one to the freshmen (currently Mike Mikolajczyk). Volunteers have also been very helpful over the years.

Shinkan’s first staff in 1986 included Charles Boston and Mark Agenter. There’s also been Dennis Haas, Paul Banas, Hal Coppage, Jim Magrames, Tom Langus, Steve Tripenfeldas, Jim Davidson, Mike Mendoza, Jeff Rosen, Marty Kell, Jeff Kapp, Elliott Gibbs, Jon Caddick, Anthony Gomez, John Premetz and Alex Coccia.

From his first season in charge, Shinkan has been dividing Munster’s season into thirds.

“That first third, I try to figure out what everybody’s role is,” says Shinkan, who uses the middle third to work on those roles. “Wins and losses are important, but try to get the kids as much playing time as I can. The first part of season, we experiment with lineups. I let players prove to not only me and their teammates, but to themselves that we’re putting them in the right spots.”

By the last third of the season, roles and set and the Mustangs hope to be going after a conference championship and are getting ready for the postseason.

“I’m pretty proud of the program and the success we’ve had down through the years,” says Shinkan.

In program history, Munster has won 12 conference baseball titles (1975, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2014) with 12 sectionals (1981, 1985, 1990, 1991, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2016), five regionals (1985, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010) and four Final Four appearances (2001, 2002, 2006, 2010), including an Class 4A state championship in 2002.

A 9-1 victory against Evansville North wrapped a 25-9 season and allowed the Mustangs to raise the state championship trophy.

Conference make-up and affiliation has changed for Munster over the year. In 2018, the Northwest Crossroads Conference has six members — Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster. Conference games will be home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday is left open as rain date.

Mike Smith came from Logansport to be Munster athletic director in 2001 and said the back-to-back schedule used in the North Central Conference was superior to the round robin schedule used at the time in the old Lake 10 Conference.

“I was the one to bring it up at post-conference meetings,” says Shinkan. “We voted on it and we went to that.”

Shinkan has a say in Munster’s non-conference schedule. Working with current AD Brian Clark, he picks as many Duneland Athletic Conference and sectional opponents as he can get.

“I don’t like to come into a sectional without seeing them during the regular season,” says Shinkan. “I try to beef up the schedule. It gets us ready for the conference season and the sectional.”

For years now, the Mustangs have opened the season in Terre Haute South Vigo Braves Baseball Bash. They play one game Friday and two Saturday in round robin with Mt. Vernon (Posey), New Haven and the host school.

Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South puts on a nice tournament,” says Shinkan. “It helps us bond as a team.”

Shinkan is in the habit of developing at least eight pitchers so he can use four (two starters and two relievers) for conference games and four for non-conference contests.

Conference pitchers put in a rotation in the weeks leading up to the sectional.

“I’ve never been one to throw pitchers to the wolves,” says Shinkan. “We’re going to rest that arm.”

What about the advent in 2017 of the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“I’ve always followed stuff like that anyway,” says Shinkan. “That’s not a big deal. High school coaches are pretty good with that. Summer coaches are a different story.”

Plenty of talented players have worn the Munster uniform during Shinkan’s career, including Hal Morris who went on to play in the majors and also went into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame.

Bobby Morris, Hal’s brother, hit a walk-off home run in the championship game against Hammond Gavit that gave Shinkan his first sectional baseball title as a coach in 1990. Bobby, who was a second-team all-state shortstop in 1990, now runs the Morris Baseball & Softball Center in Schererville.

Shinkan’s other all-staters are second baseman Steve Muller (honorable mention) in 1988, third baseman Brent Bodefeld (second team) in 1990, second baseman Brian Christiansen (honorable mention) in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka (first team) in 1998, pitcher Jon Nourie (first team) in 2000, outfielder Mike Rosen (first team) in 2002, third baseman Brett Keeler (honorable mention) in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson (honorable mention) in 2010, outfielder Alex DeRio (honorable mention) in 2014 , outfielder Joe Bryant (first team) in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous (second team) in 2016 and Mike Madura (honorable mention) in 2017.

Niksic coached five all-staters — catcher Scott Keeler (first team) in 1975, shortstop Steve Urbanski (first team) in 1978, outfield Lou Carbonare (second team) and pitcher Paul Banas (second team) in 1982 and third baseman Dave Cerajewski (second team) in 1985.

IHSBCA All-Star North/South Series players from Munster include catcher Scott Keeler in 1975, first baseman Dan Banas in 1976, outfielder Greg Beno in 1977, pitcher Chris Chelich and shortstop Steve Urbanski in 1978, first baseman Hal Morris in 1983, third baseman Dave Cerajewski in 1985, shortstop Bobby Morris in 1990, pitcher Jeff O’Connor in 1995, second baseman Brian Christiansen in 1997, outfielder Brian Wolotka in 1998, pitcher Elliott Gibbs in 2002, pitcher Bryan Bokowy in 2004, shortstop Mike Nowak in 2006, catcher Pete Jurich in 2007, pitcher Ryan Wilkinson in 2010, pitcher Grant Rademacher in 2015, pitcher Connor Manous in 2016 and pitcher Mike Madura in 2017.

Shinkan has sent numerous players on to college baseball.

Nourie was drafted out of high school by the Chicago White Sox, opted instead to play at Southeast Missouri State University (2003-04) and then pitched in the San Diego Padres system and in independent pro baseball.

Outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and was drafted by the White Sox in 2017.

Munster plays home games on-campus on a lighted field next to the football field.

“We’re very proud of it,” says Shinkan, who has got to be a sectional host for long time. “This year, we put in a brand new infield and bought a new tarp. Going against tradition, we sodded in the baselines for maintenance reasons. We have a two-story press box. A new batting cage is coming.

“I’m very grateful to the administration for keeping up with things,” says Shinkan.

The veteran coach was humbled and happy when the call from his peers to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame came in 2015 and he joined Mike Niksic and Hal Morris.

“You look at those names that are there,” says Shinkan. “Not only names from Calumet Region. I’m in with Don Mattingly and Gil Hodges. It’s a fraternity. I’m so proud of that fact I was able to attain that.”

In 2018, Shinkan and wife Laura will celebrate 40 years of marriage. The couple have two sons — Scott and Michael. Scott graduated from Munster in 1998 and played three seasons at Wabash College. He and wife Laura have a 2-year-old son, Grady, and one on the way. Michael graduated from MHS in 2004. He played baseball as a freshman then pursued golf.

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Bob Shinkan, a 1971 Munster High School graduate, has been head baseball coach at his alma mater since the 1986 season. He went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

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Jennings sees Griffith work ethic bring championships

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffith High School baseball is a product of its environment.

The players come from working class families.

Consequently, the Panthers are not afraid to put forth the effort on and off the diamond to be successful.

“These are blue collar kids,” says Griffith head baseball coach Brian Jennings. “Their parents work in the (steel) mills. We just grind it out.

“I grew up in (and coached at) Whiting and my dad worked in the mills. The fit for me is perfect.”

For that labor, Griffith has won 11 sectionals in the 19 seasons Jennings has been head coach, including the last six. The Panthers topped Hammond Clark for the latest one. The last regional title came in 2001. That was the year of a 3A state runner-up finish.

The 2017 Panthers will meet South Bend St. Joseph in the first game of the Class 3A Griffith Regional Saturday, June 3. The second semifinal pits Western against Glenn with the final at night.

Jennings respects St. Joe, coached by John Gumpf. The two met years ago when Jennings was working Notre Dame baseball camps and Gumpf was an Irish assistant to Paul Mainieri.

This Griffith squad is a mix of experience and youth with four seniors and three or four sophomores in the mix.

These players understand their roles, strengths and weaknesses.

“We know what we are and what we aren’t,” says Jennings.

Griffith is a team that plays a tough schedule. The Panthers (15-14) went 7-5 in finishing third behind Andrean (11-1) and Highland (8-4) in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (which also includes Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). Griffith split a pair of NCC games with Highland and Munster.

“We’re around .500, but we’ve lost a lot of games by one run,” says Jennings. “We play a lot of 4A schools. That prepares you for the postseason.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, five-time state champion Andrean is playing “up” in the tournament and will be in Saturday’s Class 4A LaPorte Regional as will Griffith regular-season opponent Lake Central.

Knowing that postseason runs often come at a premium, Jennings says he expects the team that advances from the regional to be the one that has the best defense, pitching and execution.

As a 3A regional host, the Panthers will get to show off their on-campus field.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve got here,” says Jennings of a facility that had lights added a few years ago and houses a clubhouse with individual player lockers. “We do our own work.”

When Jennings says “we” he is referring to the whole Griffith baseball community.

“I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s all ‘me,’” says Jennings. “It’s been a total effort.”

A parent group — the Griffith Diamond Club — has raised the money to make the improvements.

Jennings has a long list of things he wants to upgrade. It’s an idea he got at a clinic from then-LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman.

“It makes kids proud,” says Jennings of the steady program improvements. “It makes the parents and the community proud.”

Jennings works with coaching staff carrying plenty of experience, including Drew Martin, Todd Iwema (former Griffith and Lake Central head coach) and John Novosel (former Hammond Noll assistant) at the varsity level and Jeff Kawa with the junior varsity.

“I’ve surrounded myself with baseball guys,” says Jennings. “It makes my life a lot easier.

“I’m very lucky and fortunate to be the baseball coach here at Griffith.”

Jennings represented the Panthers as North head coach in the 2012 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

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Brian Jennings has led Griffith High School to 11 sectional championships in 19 seasons as head baseball coach.

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Glover helps Hobart baseball change its culture

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Culture.

It is a buzzword that’s popular these days in high school athletics.

Can a team change to a culture of dedication and winning?

In the case of the Hobart Brickies, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bob Glover Jr., who in his 11th season as a baseball coach at his alma mater (the last eight as head coach) has witnessed a positive change in the Hobart diamond culture.

The year before Glover took over as head coach, the Brickies went 9-20. In 2014, Hobart set a school record for victories, going 26-6 and earning the program’s first sectional championship since 1993.

“It was all about culture from the very beginning,” says Glover, who saw his career coaching record move to 137-72 with a season-opening win against Merrillville. “We had some battles trying to get kids to take the game more seriously.”

Glover, a 2001 HHS graduate and son of Hobart athletic director Bob Glover Sr., and others wanted to make baseball more than a hobby or springtime time-filler.

For the first time in years, the Brickies won more games than they lost in Glover’s second season at the helm and with that achievement came the raising of expectations.

“That was a big step for us,” says Glover, the seventh head baseball coach at the school since 1956. “We proved we could do that.”

Then it was time to aim for the next level. Not satisfied with just being good, players wanted to max out their potential as a team and as individuals.

“We had to convince them they were good enough to get to that level,” says Glover. “The more success we had, the more they believed they could.”

But it wasn’t just an attitude change. Hobart’s rise coincided with an improvement in facilities. Midway through the 2008-09 school year, an entirely new school complex opened. That included a fieldhouse, two side-by-side baseball diamonds and a turf football field that could be utilized by baseball on days that their fields were unplayable.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in the improvement of our won-loss record and overall standing of our program,” says Glover. “But (the facilities upgrade) is definitely a part of the story.”

The 2014 team was full of three- and four-year varsity players, many of whom went on to play college sports. Brandon Murray was drafted in the 30th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, but the right-handed pitcher opted to go to the University of South Carolina. He is one of the top prospects in NCAA Division I.

“You’ve heard it said, ‘no animals; no zoo’?,” says Glover. “You have to have great players to be successful. We’ve had a lot of talented, dedicated and hard-working kids.”

A number of team and individual hitting and pitching records have been established the past three seasons.

Like in past seasons, the Brickies will be looking for leadership.

Glover says that can take many forms, but is usually most effective at the high school level when shown by example or through performance and effort.

“Kids these days don’t respond as well to (vocal leaders),” says Glover. Good leaders show consistency and how business is conducted and the others will fall in line. “The good part of the last five years or so is once we had that established, we had really good continuity.”

Graduation took 10 players from that Hobart team. There are just two seniors on the ’17 squad.

The Brickies are coming off a 2016 season that saw them go 21-9 overall and 10-2 in the always-competitive Northwest Crossroads Conference (other members are Andrean, Griffith, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster).

The NCC plays home-and-home games against the same opponents on Mondays and Tuesdays. The league adopted the format in recent years after playing two rotations with conference contests on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays one week and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next.

“We didn’t like the way that was playing out,” says Glover, speaking for his fellow NCC coaches. “This is more like true baseball. You get to see the depth of the pitching staff.”

Speaking of pitching, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district representative Glover addressed the new pitch count rules.

The Brickies had been tracking pitches at all three levels the past few seasons, noting the number of pitches and days of rest. There were no times the past two seasons at the varsity level that the team would have been over the new limit and few times the JV would have risen above its ceiling.

In talking with other coaches, Glover has come to the conclusion that the pitch count rule with its rest requirements is going to have its biggest impact during the IHSAA state tournament series, especially in the sectional where multiple games are played in a fairly short span of days and the regional where teams play twice in the same day.

“Our sectional is pretty difficult with large 4A schools and a lot of parity,” says Glover. “I believe in the last couple of years that (some teams) have used their No. 1 pitchers in all three games in the sectional (start first game, relieve in second game start third game). That won’t be an option anymore.”

Glover has six assistant coaches — Jim Nohos and Tony Curatolo with the varsity, Jesse Smith and Bobby Wineland with the junior varsity and Nick Roberts and Tom Anderson with the C-team. Nohos is also a well-known coach of area summer teams. Curatolo and Anderson played for Glover. Smith (Griffith) and Roberts (Merrillville) are former players at Region schools. Wineland has a son in the program.

An associate scout or “bird dog” for the Atlanta Braves since last summer, Glover reports to an area scout on players he sees while coaching for Hobart and also checks out some players in the fall.

“I keep my ear to the ground, so to speak,” says Glover.

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Head coach Bob Glover Jr. has helped changed the baseball culture at Hobart High School.

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