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Notre Dame baseball’s Podkul keeps producing and keeping Irish loose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If 2018 turns out to be the last baseball season at the University of Notre Dame for Nick Podkul, the draft-eligible junior has been treating Fighting Irish followers to a memorable last go-round.

Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).

Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).

Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.

Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.

“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.

“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”

The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.

“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.

“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”

Aoki has noticed.

“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.

“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).

“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.

“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”

In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.

As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.

Podkul played for the Nortwoods League’s Battle Creek Bombers in the summer of 2016 and Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City Marlins in 2017.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.

“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.

“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.

“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.

“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”

Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.

“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.

“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”

Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.

“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”

Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”

While the American Studies major has been busy with his classes and baseball, Nick has had time to keep up with older brother Frank Podkul Jr.’s senior diamond season at Franklin College.

“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.

“He’s a real good role model for me.”

Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).

Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.

“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.

“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”

Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.

In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.

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Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

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Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

 

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Swinson returns to high school dugout for Eastbrook Panthers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man who’s been coaching since the late 1980’s has returned to a head high school baseball post after six seasons away.

Steve Swinson is now in charge at Eastbrook High School near Arcana in Grant County.

Swinson, who is both a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School near Kokomo as well as a supervisor for the Howard County Highway Department, served as head baseball coach at Eastern High School in Greentown from 2006-11, leaving after he wife Stacey’s son Saxon’s senior season to help coach daughter Shayden’s youth softball teams.

Saxon is now 25 and Shayden is an Eastern freshman.

Prior to his stint at Eastern, Swinson was a baseball assistant at Northwestern from 1998-2005. With Ryan Berryman (now head coach at Western High School in Russiaville) as head coach, the Tigers were IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up in ’05.

Swinson is a 1987 graduate of Kokomo High School, where he played baseball for coach Mike Smith.

“He was very competitive,” Swinson says of Smith. “He was a black-and-white coach. It was yes or no. There was no gray area. That’s how I try to coach myself. It’s either right or wrong. It’s what works for me and my system.”

After high school graduation, Swinson coached for South Side Youth Baseball based in Kokomo’s Highland Park. His 1995 team was runner-up in the 12U Bambino Baseball World Series in Abbeville, La.

Swinson is proud of his long career of leading athletes.

“Every year I coach, I feel blessed in being around the kids and building relationships with coaches,” says Swinson.

The Eastbrook Panthers have enjoyed plenty of success in football, going 37-4 the past three falls with 2A state runner-up finish in the fall of 2016 and a regional title in 2017.

“I see no reason they can’t be successful in the spring,” says Swinson, who takes over a baseball program that sent all-state catcher Andrew Lawvere to the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and then on to NCAA Division I baseball at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and also graduated pitcher Ross DeBonis.

Returnees for the Panthers include senior third baseman/right-handed pitcher Matt Hollars, senior middle infielder Wyatt Jackson and senior left-hander/outfielder Ryan Mansbarger (who recently surpassed 1975 graduate Rick Harness to become Eastbrook’s all-time leading basketball scorer), junior first baseman/right-hander Joshua Pluimer, junior outfielder Mason Hale (a football quarterback), junior catcher Joe Hayes and sophomore shortstop/right-hander Dylan Bragg.

“We have a strong junior class,” says Swinson, who counts former Madison-Grant High School and Indiana Wesleyan University pitcher Ryne Brown and former Madison-Grant Mike Brown as well as Steven Shelby and Hoyt Young as assistant coaches. “They are really good athletes. They like baseball. They just don’t have the fundamentals yet. We are going to work fundamentals hard.”

Swinson also plans to have all his players — including the seventh and eighth graders at Eastbrook Junior High School — working a rake or an edger on the school’s diamond.

“It’s a big thing at all levels for kids to take ownership of the baseball field and make it look nice,” says Swinson. “It’s not my field, it’s their field.

“It’s about accountability and what it takes to be part of a good program.”

There has been excitement on the campus with the talk of building new baseball and softball fields along with concession stand, restrooms and fieldhouse that is located closer to the football field.

“I’m excited about the future,” says Swinson.

Besides the junior high team which offers a local alternative to travel ball, EHS baseball is fed by Van Buren and Upland youth leagues. Swinson says they may merge into single league for baseball and softball.

The Panthers last won a sectional championship in 2004 and are currently in a 2A sectional grouping with Alexandria-Monroe, Eastern (Greentown), Elwood, Madison-Grant, Taylor and Tipton.

Eastbrook belongs to the Central Indiana Conference (along with Alexandria-Monroe, Blackford, Elwood, Frankton, Madison-Grant, Mississinewa and Oak Hill).

The CIC has each team play the other once with conference games often being played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Swinson says playing them like this means one team will likely dodge another’s No. 1 pitcher.

Speaking of pitching, 2017 marked the introduction of 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).

“I like it,” says Swinson of the idea of limits. “I’ve seen too many kids over the years have to stop playing because they’ve been taught the wrong fundamentals.”

There’s also all the wear and tear that happens with all the throws that happen during or before the game that don’t get recorded as part of the pitch count.

“It’s for the safety of kids,” says Swinson. “As a football coach, we have the helmet-to-helmet rule. We have a set of shoulder pads. We say ‘let’s tackle the right way.’”

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Steve Swinson, a football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School, is now also head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School.

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Steve and Stacey Swinson have two children — Saxon and Shayden. He has added head baseball coach at Eastbrook High School to a list of jobs which also includes football defensive coordinator and head wrestling coach at Northwestern High School. He has been a baseball head coach at Eastern (Greentown) High School and a baseball assistant at Northwestern.

 

 

Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

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Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Lafayette Central Catholic baseball has sustained excellence with Bordenet in charge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Lafayette Central Catholic High School has piled up plenty of Indiana baseball hardware.

The Knights have achieved seven IHSAA state championships (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), two state runner-up finishes (2015, 2016) and two other State Finals appearances (2002, 2003).

There’s also been nine semistate (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016), 13 regional (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) and 15 sectional  (1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) titles.

All but one sectional title came with Tim Bordenet as head coach. Fittingly, he dons jersey No. 1 on gamedays.

The 1987 LCC graduate has led the program for 19 seasons (1991-93, 2001-16) and the Knights head into 2017 ranked No. 2 to Providence in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 2A preseason poll.

LCC is not flashy, but very effective because Bordenet and his assistants (the current staff includes Dave Sterrett and Ryan Johnson on the varsity with Fred Rogers and Ryan DeBoy running the junior varsity) are constantly developing players and keeping expectations high.

The Knights work on the bunt game — offensively, defensively or both — at every practice.

“In today’s game, it’s overlooked quite a bit,” says Bordenet. “But come tournament time, most games are won or lost by the short game (It was a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning that allowed Providence to edge LCC 7-6 in the 2016 2A state championship game). Our philosophy offensively is always to put pressure on the defense. We find a way to get on base, find a way to get them over and find way to get them in.

“You do the ordinary things extraordinarily well, you have a pretty good chance of winning.”

Since the majority of players come through the Lafayette Catholic School System from preschool on up, they know from an early age the terminology, togetherness and tenacity employed at the high school level.

“Kids come into our program and they know the expectations,” says Bordenet, who looks at his 2017 roster and sees all but three players who have been in LCSS the entirety of their academic and athletic careers (the move-ins are one who arrived in fifth grade and two who came in seventh grade). “They know how we’re going to practice, the time commitment it’s going to take.

“The hardest part is not to build a program, but to sustain it. To sustain success you have to have kids who are willing to sacrifice and put in the time.”

It’s a culture that extends behind the diamond. The Knights have won or competed for championships in many other sports. The LCC boys basketball team in the 2017 1A championship game Saturday, March 25, sports 11 of 12 players who have been in the school system since Day 1.

“Success breeds success and that’s definitely the case here,” says Bordenet, the LCC athletic director since 2006.

Lafayette’s Catholic grade schools are St. Lawrence (preschool-Grade 6), St. Mary Cathedral (preschool-Grade 3) and St. Boniface (Grades 4-6). Elementary baseball begins at age 9.

LCC houses grades 7-12. A junior high baseball program was installed in 2004.

“That’s one of the most important things we ever did,” says Bordenet. “The learning curve is shorter when they enter high school.”

The level of commitment from families who are invested in the education of their children — that includes academics and athletics — has made a difference at LCC.

“We have an advantage at the elementary age because of that parental involvement,” says Bordenet.

In his 26 total seasons of coaching, Bordenet has learned to teach traditional baseball concepts to the new generation.

“Old school fundamentals are still the staple of our program,” says Bordenet. “But we do a lot more video than when I first started.”

All LCC students have laptop computers and those are employed by the baseball program to share YouTube or MLB.com videos and other information that strikes a chord with athletes in the visual age.

“If there’s a technique we’re trying to emphasize, we’ll give them a link to watch online on their own time and talk about it the next day,” says Bordenet. “We do that frequently.”

Bordenet was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 2012 (42 at the time, he was the youngest inductee ever) and earned his milestone 500th victory in 2016.

He played for three coaches at LCC — Art Laker as a freshman, Terry Thompson as a junior and senior and John O’Malley as a senior. After one season at the University of Evansville and two at Purdue University, Bordenet skipped his senior collegiate season to take the LCC head coaching job.

Having attending LCCS schools all the way through high school and only stepping away while attending college or briefly coaching at other schools, Bordenet describes himself as a “lifer” for the Blue and White.

Bordenet was head coach at Muncie Central in 1994 and 1995, an assistant at South Dearborn in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and an assistant at Benton Central in 1999 and 2000.

LCC was in the Hoosier Heartland Conference 1993-2011. The Knights joined the Hoosier Athletic Conference in 2015. Other members of that loop are Benton Central, Cass, Hamilton Heights, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western.

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Lafayatte Central Catholic has won seven state baseball championships with Tim Bordenet as head coach.

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