Tag Archives: Porter County Conference

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

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Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

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Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

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Year of maturity pays off for Mack’s Morgan Township Cherokees

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going through a tough stretch at the end of the 2017 high school baseball season has paid off for the 2018 Morgan Township Cherokees.

In Cory Mack’s first season as head coach, he took over a program with just two returning varsity starters.

“The other boys were being educated with every game that we played,” says Mack.

Morgan got off to a 15-3 start before hitting a stretch of bigger schedules. Losing one-run games to Valparaiso, Hobart and John Glenn along the way, the IHSAA Class 1A Cherokees (about 250 students) lost nine straight and finished 15-12 in 2017. “It taxed my boys mentally.”

Having gone through that, Morgan did not experience that kind of skid this spring.

“There is maturity,” says Mack. “They know how to make those adjustments that are necessary to right the ship.”

The Cherokees beat Washington Township 8-0 Monday, May 28 to win the fourth sectional in program history (2004, 2012 and 2013 are the others) — avenging a 10-0 regular-season loss to the Senators — and take a 20-5 record into the Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

“(The loss to Washington Township) burned in the pit of their stomach,” says Mack, who admits to getting upset during that contest. “It may have fueled the fire for sectional.

“The guys could not have played a more fundamentally-sound game (in the rematch).”

Morgan meets Fremont at 11 a.m. EST Saturday, followed by Northfield vs. South Central (Union Mills). The regional final is slated for 7 p.m.

The Cherokees’ top pitchers are senior right-hander Colin Mack (the coach’s youngest son and an Indiana University South Bend commit), junior right-hander Hunter Swivel, senior righty Jeremy Landgrebe and senior lefty Tyler Bush. When not pitching, Mack is at shortstop, Swivel at third base, Landgrebe at second base and Bush sometimes plays first base.

Mack (the school’s all-time hits and stolen base leader), Swivel and senior center fielder Connor Malmquist (a Trine University soccer commit) are hitting above .400 and senior first baseman Colton Rosenbaum and junior catcher Cody Maxwell are over .350.

Morgan has plenty of speed and base-stealing threats.

“We force the issues to make things happen,” says Mack. “As long as we can put a guy on base, we can score without a hit.

“We make something happen when nothing is really working.”

Even though only two seniors are gong to the next level for athletics, most are college-bound.

“They’re all intelligent kids,” says Cory Mack. “Sometimes they think too much and don’t react enough.

“Athletes play off their gut and not their brain.”

Mack’s assistant coaches are Paul Lipski and son Tyler Mack.

The Valparaiso-Based Cherokees play in the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

A 1991 LaCrosse graduate, Mack played four seasons of baseball for the Tigers. His head coach was Bill Drook. He spent a couple years in college before coming home to begin raising a family.

Cory and Michelle Mack have two boys. Seven years separate LaCrosse graduate Tyler Mack and Morgan senior Colin Mack.

The younger son has gained experience with a number of travel baseball organizations over the years, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects, Motor City Baseball Club Hit Dogs, Ironmen Baseball Club, Collier/DB A’s and Midwest Mayhem.

Many of his teammates and opponents are playing or have committed to play at the NCAA Division I level.

“I was trying to expose my son to as many conditions and as many different styles of teammates as I could,” says Mack. “Drop him in anywhere and you’re going to get the same performance.”

For his folks, it’s a chance to do something they really love — spend time together at the ballpark.

“We’re baseball junkies,” says Cory Mack. “We live for this stuff. For my wife and I, it’s like vacation. It’s fun to watch a kid who loves playing. We’ve been everywhere with this kid.

“It’’s been a blast.”

Colin Mack has played  multiple times at places like the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and East Cobb. His club won a title in a 106-team tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

In all of his years of coaching and watching travel baseball, Cory Mack has witnessed too many younger kids throwing breaking balls.

“A lot of coaches letting kids throw curve balls way too soon,” says Mack, noting that the strain takes its tolls on arms, muscles and ligaments that are still developing. “Guys rely on a curveball before they can locate a fastball. The curveball is just putting miles on an engine. Every dad in the world needs to teach his kid to locate a fastball and throw a straight change.

“Kids always think the curve ball is sexy, but the only thing it does is slow the ball down. The change-up does the same thing.”

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Cory Mack (far right in top photo and far left in bottom photo) is in his second season as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso. His Cherokees are in the IHSAA Class 1A Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

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Kruszka brings passion to South Central Satellites

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some say that baseball is just a game.

Ryan Kruszka has a different take.

“I owe everything in my life to a little white ball,” says Kruszka, the head baseball coach and athletic director at South Central (Union Mills) High School in LaPorte County. “If (Butler University) coach (Steve) Farley didn’t come see me play (for Joliet Central High School) against Lockport, Ill., my life would have turned out completely different.”

That chance to play college baseball led to Kruszka meeting his future wife (Ryan and Lexy reside in Valparaiso with daughters Rowan, 7, and Lilah, 4) and has allowed him to coach and give back to the sport that means so much to him.

“If I can give one, two or three kids in my lifetime the opportunity that I had … Developing the relationships with coaches and players,” says Kruszka, who enters his sixth season as Satellites head coach in 2018. “That’s what it’s all about. I want to give them experiences they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”

South Central hoisted IHSAA Class 1A sectional championship trophies in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

The Elwood, Ill., native impressed Farley as a right-handed pitcher and was signed to play NCAA Division I baseball in Indianapolis.

Kruszka toed a rubber for the Bulldogs for four seasons. He was a captain and learned plenty from his head coach.

Farley taught the mental side of the game.

“Baseball is such a mental game,” says Kruszka, 31. “Especially as a pitcher, you have to be 100 percent dedicated to what you’re doing.”

Farley insisted his players do the little things right and sweat the details.

“Control what you control and let the other things fall in place,” says Kruszka. “Control your effort and your attitude.”

Kruszka pitched one season of independent professional baseball with the 2009 Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League.

His coaching career began when Speedway High School head coach Marcus McCormick asked him to run the junior varsity squad.

From McCormick, Kruszka learned how to run a program and how to motivate players.

“He got those kids to play,” says Kruszka, who has Speedway on SC schedule. “He had a handle on everything.”

Kruszka then became pitching coach on Eric Mattingly’s staff at Brownsburg High School.

“He knew how to connect with the kids,” says Kruszka of Mattingly. “He was a great talker and motivator. He was able to create a fun practice and I’ve been able to bring that (to South Central). If we can’t get a practice done in two hours, I’m doing something wrong.”

Jarad Miller, Kruszka’s varsity assistant coach, also has a D-I college background (Valpo U.). Miller saved 17 games as a second- and third-team All-American in 2009.

Both Kruszka and Miller teach the players that playing baseball is not “cookie cutter.”

“We give as many examples as possible why teams we were on were successful or why they were not successful,” says Kruszka. “We want them to develop their own philosophy that shows them success. There’s no clear-cut way.

“If you can find a way that works for you, take it and use it. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Duke Eaton and Brian Glisic are SC’s JV coaches.

Kruszka and company face the challenges of small-school baseball (enrollment at South Central is around 300).

“The group of guys you’ve got is the group of guys you got,” says Kruszka. “You’ve got to get the most out of them. It’s not like Penn where it’s next guy up. It’s the hand you’ve been dealt.

“You do what you can with your talent level and the positions they can play.”

The Satlellites have two Class of 2019 D-I commits in outfielder Carson Husmann (Illinois State University) and corner infielder Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University, where father Brian Schmack is head coach).

Kruszka says he may need to use Husmann in the infield and Schmack behind the plate next spring.

Then there’s the question of who will take the mound.

The 2017 season brought with it 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).

“It’s a positive and something that needed to happen,” says Kruszka. “I think it’s a good thing to have a concrete system. At 1A level, it’s tough. You have to train everybody to be ready to pitch. You may need an inning or two to bridge that gap. We don’t have the numbers of those bigger programs. We have to strategize.”

Kruszka would like to see the JV limits brought up to meet the varsity standards.

“We’ve got so many kids floating between varsity and JV anyway,” says Kruszka. “We need to do some tweaks. But it’s the right thing moving forward. I think they’ll get it right.”

South Central plays on-campus on a field with sunken dugouts. Through a generous community donation, the infield has been laser-graded and re-sodded.

The Satellites are part of the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville). It’s a strong small-school conference, often well-represented in the Class 1A and Class 2A statewide rankings.

Every PCC school plays one another during the season, followed by a blind-draw tournament.

Adding athletic director to his job responsibilities keeps Kruszka hopping, especially in the spring with its weather-related postponements. He is grateful for all the help from assistants and former AD’s still in the school system.

As AD, Kruszka definitely has a say in his non-conference schedule and slates games against bigger schools.

“We’ll play anyone,” says Kruszka. “We’ll take our lumps, but we will win some, too. Seeing bigger arms — that plus-velocity with the breaking ball to go with it —  helps us in the tournament at the end of the year.”

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South Central (Union Mills) Hills School head baseball coach Ryan Kruszka (left) celebrates a sectional title with wife Lexy and daughters Lilah (4) and Rowan (7).

Boone Grove gives Antone coaching opportunity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone may be young.

But he goes into his first season as a high school baseball head coach having learned a great deal from a pair of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

Antone, who turns 27 in November, is now in charge at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso.

Andrean’s Dave Pishkur was the corner infielder’s coach his first two prep seasons as a player. Chesteron’s Jack Campbell provided his wisdom in Antone’s final two high school campaigns. Antone graduated from CHS in 2009.

“I had a really good experience at both places,” says Antone. “I built real good relationships with coaches, teachers and my friends that I still have today.”

Antone played one season at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., before transferring to Valparaiso University.

Anxious to get his coaching career started, he became an assistant at Valparaiso High School while doing his student teaching in the spring of 2014.

The 2015 season was spent as an assistant for Campbell’s Trojans and 2016 and 2017 for Pishkur’s 59ers. This summer, he was an assistant for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League.

“I’m very, very glad I made the decision I did,” says Antone. “If I didn’t there’s no way I’d be as far along as I am right now.

“I’m at a very good advantage to have played and coached with (Campbell and Pishkur). Dave has learned as he’s gone on. I learned from him to never be satisfied. I try to always improve myself as a coach.”

Antone has done that by accessing Pishkur’s library of baseball books and DVDs and traveling with him to clinics.

“I like talking with other coaches, seeing what they do and picking up anything you can incorporate into my program to make it a little bit better,” says Antone whose Boone Grove staff so far includes Chesterton classmate and teammate Jack Wilson, 2014 Boone Grove graduate Jake Gholsten and Bryan Hill (who was an assistant to Rollie Thill who resigned after 14 seasons, six sectional, two regional and six Porter County Conference round robin and tournament titles with more than 300 wins).

Antone hopes to pick up another assistant or two to lead a program expect to have 30 or more players on varsity and junior varsity squads in the spring of 2018.

“In order to be successful you need to surround yourself with good assistants,” says Antone. “You coach them about the vision for the program and let them know what their responsibilities.”

This fall, Antone is leading Boone Grove seventh and eighth graders in a PCC schedule. He has also gotten a chance to meet some high schoolers and looks forward to working more with them soon.

The Wolves lost to IHSAA Class 2A northern semistate qualifier Hebron in the 2017 Boone Grove Sectional championship game.

Antone looks for his team to “be grinders and play the game one pitch at a time.”

He expects to have a good mix of veterans and newcomers. There are some freshmen who could contribute at the varsity level.

Classes began Monday, Aug. 14 at BG, where Antone is an alternative school teacher. He taught the last two years at Andrean after three years at St. Patrick’s School in Chesterton, where he went from pre-school through eighth grade.

Antone played Little league baseball at Liberty Rec in Chesterton then travel ball with the Duneland Flyers as a junior high schooler and Indiana Breakers while in high school.

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Pat Antone, a graduate of Chesterton High School and Valparaiso University, is the new head baseball coach at Boone Grove High School.