Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

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T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

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Mental, physical toughness important to Concord’s Lehmann

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Walter Lehmann developed a philosophy about baseball as a player and it has followed him into coaching.

Effort does not have to take a day off.

“I’d rather have a kid that is going to give that max effort all the time than the kid next to him who may be a little bit more talented,” says Lehmann, who was recently hired as head baseball coach at Concord High School. “When I was a player, I never hit the ball the best or was the fastest or had the best arm.”

And yet Lehmann excelled at Mishawaka Marian High School (graduating at in 2007) and played at Bethel College in Mishawaka (graduating in 2001). He was primarily a catcher.

Lehmann had his competitive fire stoked while playing at Marian for former Notre Dame player Tim Prister.

“He taught you confidence in yourself and your team,” says Lehmann, who knew Prister beginning in first grade thanks to being a youth sports teammate of Tim’s son, Eric. “(Tim taught us about) being mentally and physically tough. If you have that physical edge, it brings that mental edge.”

Lehmann, who went to St. Jude Catholic School in South Bend for grades K-8, learned which teammates he could trust based on how they responded during grueling workouts.

Who’s going to show up on time?

Who’s going to put in that extra effort?

Who’s going lead the pack?

Those shared experiences can built chemistry, which comes in hand with the team down a run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Lehmann picked up more passion and baseball knowledge at Bethel from head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Siler) cared about us as people and not just as baseball players,” says Lehmann of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “The same is true with Coach Zartman. His biggest concern was what life was going to be for us after baseball.

“(Jimenez) had a passion for the game and was there for you each day.”

Lehmann went into business for a few years while coaching baseball at Marian and in the summer with the South Bend Silver Hawks/South Bend Cubs Youth Baseball Club teams and officiating hockey in the winter (he played two high school seasons in that sport).

Working with the youth teams and at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center, Lehmann lapped up the advice being handed out by veteran pro baseball men Mark Haley and Curt Hasler.

He also decided to enter Bethel’s transition-to-teaching program. After a year at Mishawaka Catholic School, Lehmann now leads social studies students at Concord High School.

“I’ve been excited to come into work each day,” says Lehmann, who turns 29 in September.

The coach is also emphasize his message of extra effort and essential skills to the Minutemen.

“I want to make sure we do the fundamentals well,” says Lehmann. “A lot of teams try to do too much and they don’t execute the basics well.

“You can win a lot of high school baseball games by throwing strikes, (correctly) running the bases and playing defense. If we lose a game, I want it to be because we got beat and not because we gave them the win. If our pitchers are throwing strikes and they beat us, it happens.”

One of Lehmann’s favorite practice drills is called “21 Outs” and involves a coach with a fungo bat and a defense trying to record all the outs without an error.

“We want to have that defensive mentality,” says Lehmann. “We’re not giving more than 21 outs. This is what they get.”

Lehmann follows Eric Nielsen, who resigned to go into private business. The new coach is in the process of assembling his assistants for 2017-18.

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Walter Lehmann, a graduate of Mishawaka Marian High School and Bethel College, is now head baseball coach at Concord High School. (Concord High School Photo)

 

Cubs appreciate what dietitians can do for their performance

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What athletes put into their bodies can go along way in what they can accomplish.

The field of sports nutrition just keeps growing every year.

The Chicago Cubs have led the way in professional baseball circles, where each team is looking to require dietetic staffers at the big league level.

In 2016, the Cubs fulfilled Dawn Blatner’s goal when they became the first Major League Baseball organization to place these licensed nutrition experts with all of its minor league affiliates. Blatner is assisted in Chicago by Jenny Westerkamp.

Marta Scechura, who is now a Sports Nutrition Associate at the University of Notre Dame, led the dietary needs of the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs the first season. It’s been Emily Kaley in 2017.

Kaley is part of a little community that also includes the two dietitians in Chicago and four at other Cubs minor league stops.

Following the plan set up by Blatner and giving it her own flavor, Kaley keeps South Bend players on a beneficial nutritional path.

“I make sure they have access to well-balanced meals every single day,” says Kaley. “I meal plan for two meals everyday of the season (pregame and postgame).

“Nutrition is important for your performance,” says Kaley. “It can make a big difference.”

With a “plate check” chart on the clubhouse wall, the team has a chance to take in well-balanced portions of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.

With about 40 mouths to feed and tastes coming from all over the U.S. and Latin America, Kaley works with a local caterer (as well as those at out-of-town destinations in the Midwest League) to mix up the menu.

“I need to make a variety of all different kinds of foods to help them stay interested in eating healthy foods and not get bored with what they’re eating,” says Kaley. “We can’t have chicken every single time.”

Kaley takes requests and provides healthy smoothies packed with nutrient-dense foods. The ingredients depend on the player’s goals — gaining, losing or maintaining weight.

“I’m right in the clubhouse doing it,” says Kaley. “They see it and smell it. Sometimes they want to help. Sometimes they want to taste test.”

If players don’t like what’s being presented to them, peanut butter and jelly is an alternative.

With clubhouse/equipment manager Terry Fellows doing the shopping with a “Costco haul” at the beginning of a homestand, Kaley makes sure her hungry crew can have healthy snacks like fruits, homemade popcorn or banana bread.

There is also access to superfood shots — Matcha for energy, beet for endurance, pickle juice as a cramp stopper, ginger for immunity, collagen for protection and tart cherry for recovery.

She is also there to answer all the nutrition questions thrown her way and troubleshooting.

Kaley went on one road trip and might go on another before the 2017 season closes. When she’s not with the squad, she has strength and conditioning coach Ryan Nordtvedt providing the snacks while she is in South Bend catching up on planning, notes and filing assessments sheets for the Cubs organization.

As a fifth-year veteran of professional baseball, Nordtvedt has also been a resource to show Kaley how things function. He also provides her with player weights so she is able to use food to help them gain, lose or maintain.

“I’m glad the strength and conditioning coach is here and locked into nutrition being an important part of professional baseball,” says Kaley, who also works with athletic trainer Logan Severson in South Bend.

Kaley, who plans to become a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) this February, has a Masters degree in Sport Nutrition from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Simmons College in Boston, where she also played lacrosse.

She grew up in Bangor and Manchester, Maine, and earned her karate black belt and played lacrosse and soccer at Maranacook Community School.

“I was raised in a healthy environment,” says Kaley, the daughter of a dietitian mother (Lori) and diabetic father (Bruce) with sisters (Lindsey and twin Zoie). “I brought lunches to school everyday. I fueled well for soccer practice. I knew how food effected me.”We didn’t got out to eat a lot and in-moderation. We didn’t have soda in the house. We had ice cream once in awhile.”

Kaley went from Simmons into a Morrison Chartwells Distance Dietetic Internship in Charlotte, N.C. While there, she got to work with elite swimmer Ryan Lochte, who was training at Queens University. She was invited to go to Colorado Springs see to the nutrition needs of Team USA Swimming and Team USA Track and Field athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the year leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I was in the presence of Michael Phelps and gave him a smoothie one time,” says Kaley.

Those kinds of athletes are very much in-tune with their nutrition and how their bodies respond to food.

At the low levels of pro baseball, it varies from person to person and not all metabolisms are the same.

“It’s super fun to work with the 18- to 24-year-olds,” says Kaley. “They’re just starting to get it.”

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Emily Kaley is the dietitian for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. The Chicago Cubs organization was the first to have registered dietitians for all of its minor league affiliates. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

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Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

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South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.

Scientific training from Marks helps give state finalist hitters an edge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Better offense through science.

Following the scientific methods prescribed by Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., has helped players going after high school state titles in Indiana.

Penn (Class 4A) and South Bend St. Joseph (3A) both go after IHSAA state crowns Saturday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

The Kingsmen (27-6) take on Indianapolis Cathedral (28-0) for the 4A title around 5 p.m. after the Indians (24-4) meet Jasper (30-4) for the 3A championship at approximately 2 p.m.

Among Marks’ weekly pupils are Penn seniors Nolan Metcalf (Kansas University commit), Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) and junior Payton Kerr and St. Joe seniors Tony Carmola and Tyler Kleva (Trine).

“I use analytics and metrics to help them reach their potential,” says Marks. “I’m not the traditional baseball trainer.

“All you have to do is give good athletes information. All I do is use science to prove it to them and then they understand it.”

Marks gets hitters to be able to analyze their own swings.

“I want to know what they did wrong, so they can make an adjustment,” says Marks. “It’s more of a college/pro tech approach. We want a kid to be low maintenance at the next level.”

Marks, who started coaching his own Kalamazoo, Mich., area travel team in 2002-03 and worked at Around The Horn baseball school in Kalamazoo 2004-07 before starting his own place in Sturgis in 2008, talks about the kinetic chain of energy, building the swing from he bottom up.

Metcalf, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year for 2017, has been going to Marks since age 12 with Kavadas, Waite, Carmola and Kleva plus Mishawaka Marian senior Riley Tirotta (Dayton), South Bend Clay senior Trenton Stoner (Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne) also being longtime students. Kerr and South Bend Adams senior Spencer Nelson are newer clients.

Using video analysis and HitTrax technology, Marks talks with these players are many others (he has a long wait list because of demand) about things like launch angle and exit velocity.

Unlike the traditional approach, Marks encourages his hitters to drive the baseball in the air.

“We do not hit down on the ball like I was taught 20 years ago,” says Marks, who played at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. “Line drives over the infielders’ heads leads to extra-base hits. I’d rather see a deep ball to center field than a grounder to shortstop.”

It’s an exciting moment when hitters can inform Marks they had 0 percent ground balls on 100 swings.

The Hitters Edge facility Wall of Fame is filled with many current and former Major League Baseball hitters at the point of contact.

Marks encourages his hitters to find a match and then goes about breaking them down.

“There is a small reconstruction period with kids,” says Marks. “I break the kids down to nothing to teach them core movements that they need to know.

“I want to teach them technique first. Then they can put their own style to the swing.”

Hitters are encouraged to have quick hands and not get jammed at the plate.

Marks wants his hitters to build muscle memory and to become unpredictable at the plate by being able to use all fields and not just pull or hit to the opposite field.

“Then they don’t know how to pitch to you,” says Marks.

IHSAA State Finals players have been tough outs in 2017. Witness some of the Penn numbers.

Penn left-swinging lead-off man Waite is hitting .491 with six home runs, five triples, eight doubles and 40 runs batted in.

Righty Metcalf (.410, 4 HR, 7 2B, 36 RBI), lefty Kavadas (.370, 4 HR, 3 3B, 9 2B, 26 RBI) and righty Kerr (.377, 1 HR, 5 2B, 23 RBI) have also been potent.

Then there’s righty-swinging St. Joe boys Carmola (.446, 3 HR, 4 3B, 12 2B, 28 RBI) and Kleva (.360, 1 HR, 9 2B, 31 RBI).

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Hitters Edge instructor Mike Marks meets up with three pupils (from left): Penn High School and Indiana Nitro travel baseball players Trevor Waite, Nolan Metcalf and Niko Kavadas. The three Kingsmen have helped their team into the 2017 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

 

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.

BRIANJENNINGS

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

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