Tag Archives: Regional champions

Coulter, South Central Satellites eager for ’21

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Coulter has been head baseball coach at South Central Junior/Senior High School in Union Mills, Ind., for more than 500 days and has yet to earn a win or loss.

Hired prior to 2020, there was much anticipation with a talented group coming back. 

The Satellites won the Porter County Conference for just the third time (2009 and 2017 were the other title seasons) and the IHSAA Class 1A South Bend Career Academy Sectional before losing in the South Bend Regional championship to eventual state runner-up and fellow PCC member Washington Township in 2019. 

Several key starters from that squad returned in 2020.

But the Satellites never took the field in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” says Coulter. “Like everyone else.”

Coulter and company now getting ready for 2021 with more high hopes.

“I think we’ll be a dark horse this year,” says Coulter. “We’ve revamped the entire program and internally changed our mindset.”

South Central (enrollment around 325) is part of a 1A sectional grouping with Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy and Triton. The Satellites have won 16 sectional crowns, including 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. South Central won regional crowns in 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2011.

“We’re the sectional favorite or co-favorite almost every year,” says Coulter. “We don’t want winning sectional defining our season.”

When the Satellites break a huddle in practice, the chant is “138.”

That’s the number of miles from Satellite Field to Victory Field in Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals.

“We have a very talented group,” says Coulter. “It’s an exciting time to be a South Central baseball player.

“We’re more poised now to make a pretty deep (tournament) run.”

Last summer, South Central took part in five travel tournaments. No players were turned away. There were 32 taking part in games and workouts.

With the majority of the varsity lineup committed to other travel teams, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds played in 17U events. 

With all the players together, a title was won at the On Turf Sports Classic in Columbia City, Ind., beating a team made up of Avon and Plainfield high school players for the championship. There was also a squad from Cincinnati and the Harris Storm (Penn High School players).

There are currently 38 identified with the program, including 18 freshmen. One member of the Class of 2024 — pitcher Bradley Ferrell — shined at a recent Perfect Game event in Florida.

Coulter is a 2009 LaPorte High School graduate. Other LPHS alums on his Satellite coaching staff include pitching coach Tony Ferrell (a member of the 1992 state champions and father of Bradley), Dave Santana and Garrett Kautz with the varsity. Alex Rochowiak is the JV head coach. Zach Lee is the JV pitching coach. Chesterton High School graduate Rochowiak played is the son of Michigan City High School head coach Jeff Rochowiak.

South Central has also gotten new uniforms for its varsity and junior teams and put a new windscreen completely around its home park.

The coaching staff donated their 2020 salaries to pay for infield playing mix, which helps with turnaround time on rain days.

The grass baseline have been replaced with dirt.

“It looks more like a baseball field now,” says Coulter.

Besides South Central, the Porter County Conference includes Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

Boone Grove won the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2018 with Washington Township making it to the Class 1A finale in 2019.

“It’s a pretty solid conference in baseball,” says Coulter. Currently the largest of Indiana’s 1A schools, South Central has yet to win a PCC tournament.

Recent South Central graduates now in NCAA Division I college baseball are Carson Husmann (Bradley University) and Kyle Schmack (Valparaiso University).

The Satellite Series — a competition among groups — was launched in November and will continue until tryouts in March. Upperclassmen drafted teams of underclassmen. Teams compete for weekly points based on attendance, Baseball I.Q. sessions, in-person hitting sessions and school grades.

“The kids have absolutely eaten it up,” says Coulter, who adds that they are vying for a letter jacket patch and a steak dinner grilled by the coaching staff.

South Central players build their Baseball I.Q. with Zoom sessions that have included guests like Evan Miller (a pitcher in the San Diego Padres system who starred at LaPorte High and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) and Rob Younce (a Philadelphia Phillies scout and national travel coach with the Canes).

Coulter encourages his players to talk and think like a coach and presents lessons from American Baseball Coaches Association convention speakers and the Baseball Coaching Bible edited by Jerry Kindall and John Winkin and featuring 27 coaches including LaPorte legend Ken Schreiber.

“It’s been real beneficial,” says Coulter. “The No. 1 priority in our program is to play catch. If you can’t play catch, you can’t play baseball.

“(Our players) hear some words from people at the top of the game.”

There are plans for Coulter and his assistant to tap into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which will stream its speakers to members Saturday, Jan. 16. 

“It allows us to grow and stay current with the times,” says Coulter.

After playing football and lacrosse and a few seasons of basketball in high school, Coulter went to Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., where he pursued a Business Management degree and served as a student assistant football coach on the staff of Shannon Griffith.

After a season a junior varsity baseball coach at LaPorte, Coulter led the South Shore Smoke 13U travel team.

Coulter and partner Kevin Tran are Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agents based in LaPorte. 

Zach Coulter is the head baseball coach at South Central High School in Union Mills, Ind. The graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., is also a Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent in LaPorte.

Alum McTagertt keeps growing the game at Lafayette Jeff

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott McTagertt paid his dues before becoming head baseball coach at his alma mater.

A 1986 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, McTagertt was still a Purdue University student when he became a Jeff assistant for the 1988 season.

He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since. 

McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.

“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.

“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”

A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.

“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.

“He was fun to learn from.”

Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.

“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him. 

“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”

In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.

“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”

Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.

“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.

“You can always steal an idea or two.”

McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.

“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.

Teaching fifth grade STEM at nearby Sunnyside Intermediate, McTagertt drops by regularly to see the progress of the ballpark adjacent to the Columbian Park Zoo that mimics Kokomo Municipal Stadium (home to Kokomo High School, Indiana University Kokomo and summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits) and is oriented the other way from the old Loeb (left field faces the pool and right field is closet to the zoo).

“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer. 

In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.

“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.

McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.

The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.

Jeff (enrollment around 2,080) is in the Northern Central Conference (with Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).

Two recent Jeff players — brother Justin Walker Jr. (Purdue) and Jacob Walker (Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) — have moved on to college diamonds. Current Bronchos Caleb Koeppen and Brady Preston have received college offers.

For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.

About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.

That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.

The Junior Bronchos play often at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and Indianapolis Sports Park.

Elite players are encouraged to play for teams like the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Nitro.

“We take rest of the kids and run them through our practices and camps,” says McTagertt. “We get the best of both worlds.”

Utilizing diamonds at Armstrong Park and McCaw Park, Lafayette Youth Baseball is still going strong.

“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.

Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.  

Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College. 

Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.

Scott McTagertt is the head baseball coach at Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School — a position he’s held since the 2008 season. The 1986 Jeff graduated joined the Bronchos coaching staff in 1988.

Zangrilli’s baseball path takes him back to Carmel Greyhounds

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With lasting influences from two coaches, John Zangrilli decided that education and coaching were for him when he was still a teenager.

It was while learning and playing for Jeff Massey (baseball) and Ken Randle (basketball) that Zangrilli saw his career path. Massey was the head baseball coach for Zangrilli’s last three years at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, following Steve Goeglein. Randle was a freshmen/assistant coach, teacher and mentor. 

Since graduating from Lawrence Central in 1994, Zangrilli has enjoyed many baseball experiences and encounters with successful diamond minds.

Zangrilli — aka Z or Coach Z since his father (Papa Z) and son (Little Z) are also named John — has coached in three central Indiana high school programs (two assistant stints at Carmel and head coaching tenures at Brebeuf Jesuit and Zionsville). 

As a head coach, Coach Z-led teams went 247-81 with six sectional championships (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), three regional crowns (2005 and 2009 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), one Final Four appearance (2012 at Zionsville), two Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2011 and 2012 at Zionsville) and one Marion County crown (2010 at Brebeuf in a an extra-inning game against Lawrence Central at Victory Field that Zangrilli calls the best game he’s ever seen).

Six of Zangrill’s players were chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and he was the South head coach for the 2009 games in Evansville. 

He has coached 28 players who went on to college careers and 18 academic all-state honorees

Among Zangrilli’s coach of the year honors include IHSBCA all-district (2009, 2012), all-North (2011) and Marion County (2005, 2009, 2010).

There has been involvement with three travel organizations (Zionsville Baseball Club, Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls) for Coach Z. He helped start the ZBC and re-tooled the Carmel Pups. He coached with the Pups while his son, John, moved from 8U to 12U. Both will be with the Indiana Bulls 13U Silver team — dad as head coach and son as a player — in 2021.

As a collegiate pitcher, Zangrilli enjoyed three NCAA Division I seasons (1995 for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan at Indiana University and 1996 and 1997 for Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley at Butler University). 

“Coach Farley and Coach Morgan couldn’t be any more different in terms of their personalities

Intense,” says Zangrilli, describing Morgan as intense and Farley possessing an even-keel temperament. “Coach Morgan was extremely detail-oriented. Every moment of every day was organized. It’s the first time I was introduced to something like that. It was about understanding your role on the team. As a coach, I drew on that a little bit.

“I really enjoyed the way Coach Farley created a calm atmosphere for his athletes to relax and take what they had been taught and then go out and play the game.”

Zangrilli earned an Elementary Education degree with an endorsement in Physical Education and Health from Butler in 1998. He has worked in Carmel schools for 22 years and is now a Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook Elementary School.

His first high school coaching gig was a three-year stint on the coaching staff of Carmel Greyhounds head coach Tom Linkmeyer in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Carmel lost 1-0 in 11 innings to eventual state runner-up Evansville Harrison in the 2000 State semifinals.

Born in central Pennsylvania, Zangrilli roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Penn State University. He came to Indiana early in his elementary school years.

At 14, Zangrilli worked for Jeff Mercer Sr., at Mercer’s Sports Center on the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

One of the first players to log more than one summer with the Indiana Bulls, Z was with the elite organization 1992-94. Mike Stein was head coach that first year. The next two years, Dennis Kas was head coach and was helped by Kevin Stephenson, Brent Mewhinney and Linkmeyer, who was also the Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook prior to Zangrilli.

“They were imparting all this baseball knowledge on us,” says Zangrilli. “It was eye-opening. It was the intersection of talent and instruction and we took off. We had a great deal of success.

“Dennie Kas was the first guy I played for who instilled an appreciation for preparation,” says Zangrilli. “He had a real knack for reading the pulse of his team.

“He could walk in the dugout and know if they needed to be calm or pick up the energy.”

Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf for seven campaigns (2004-10) and Zionsville for three (2011-13). 

“Between my years at Brebeuf and Zionsville it was an embarrassment of riches,” says Coach Z.

Among his assistants at Brebeuf were Andy McClain (former player and assistant under IHSBCA of Famer Bill Tutterow at Martinsville and head coach at LaVille and Arlington who went on to be head coach at Brebeuf, Norwell and Lawrence Central) and Tim Phares (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares). 

Standout Braves players included catcher Radley Haddad (Western Carolina University, Butler University, player and coach in New York Yankees system), outfielder Jack Dillon (Butler University), Tres Eberhardt (Xavier University), outfielder Nathan Koontz (Ball State University), catcher Mitch Overley (Ball State University, Wabash College), infielder/outfielder Ty Adams (University of Notre Dame), outfielder Kevin Simms (University of Dayton, Wright State University), outfielder Stevie Eberhardt-Gipson (Northern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher/catcher John Krasich (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).

Pollard, Tibbs, Jered Moore, Quinn Moore, Jeremy Honaker and Josh Medveseck were among those on Coach Z’s staff at Zionsville. 

Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder/outfielder Max Kuhn (University of Kentucky, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder Troy Kuhn (Ohio State University), third baseman Ben Kocher (Belmont University), outfielder Drew Small (Butler University), left-hander Alex Westrick (Xavier University) and outfielder Nick Barrientos (Wabash Valley College, Northwood University) are part of a long line of Eagles players who went on to college and/or professional baseball.

John and wife Jackie have two children. After the 2013 season, Z turned his focus to teaching as well as coaching Little Z and daughter Olivia (a travel volleyball player).

When former Butler teammate Matt Buczkowski (son of IHBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski) became head coach at he — and all the returning Carmel talent — lured Zangrilli back into high school coaching. 

Coach Z remembers Buczkowski’s request going something like this: “I’ve got a Ferrari of pitching staff. I need to have somebody help me drive it.”

Buczkowski inherited a stable of arms developed by former Carmel pitching coach Jay Lehr.

The 2017 senior class featured left-handers Tommy Sommer (Indiana University), Max Habegger (Lipscomb University), Shawn Roop (Manhattan College) and right-handers Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) and Aaron Ernst (University of Dayton, Wright State University) plus outfielders Parker Massman (Miami University of Ohio) and infielder Rhett Wintner (Ball State University). There was also junior infielder Jack Van Remortel (University of Michigan).

“I didn’t plan on coming back to high school coaching,” says Zangrilli. “But I was intrigued. I had a pretty good history with Butch. 

“My wife gave me the thumbs-up.”

The ’17 Greyhounds went 23-3 and won the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

The spring of 2021 will be Coach Z’s fifth since returning to the Carmel dugout.

Zangrilli, Buczkowski and former Westfield and Carmel field boss and current hitting coach Eric Lentz represent more than 500 head coaching victories on a Hounds staff. Pitching coach Fred Moses came to Carmel from Lawrence Central with Buczkowski.

“My role is whatever they need as any given day,” says Zangrilli, who has been a pitching coach, first base coach and a camp coordinator. The past five years, he helped oversee the Carmel Pups.

COVID-19 shut down the 2020 high school season days before tryouts (Carmel went 21-8 and finished second in the MIC in 2019) and prevented the 12U Pups from making a trip to play in Cooperstown, N.Y. 

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” says Zangrilli. “It proves it can be taken away from you at any point.”

Fortunately, many Carmel players did get to play last summer. Coach Z helped Kevin Christman coach during the last few weeks of the inaugural College Summer League at Grand Park.

Following health precautions, Zangrilli says the Hounds were able to accomplish as much as they did during last year’s Limited Contact Period fall workouts.

Says Coach Z, “All systems are go.”

John Zangrilli is a teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. (Carmel Clay Schools Photo)
Carmel (Ind.) High School assistant baseball coach John Zangrilli hits fungos to the Greyhounds.
John Zangrilli is a Wellness teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. The 2021 season will be the firth in his second stint with the Greyhounds. The former Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana University and Butler University pitcher has also served as head coach at Brebeuf Jesuit High School in Indianapolis and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and has coached with the Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls.

Alum Wells returns to coach Cowan Blackhawks

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Wells grew up in the Delaware County, Ind., community of Cowan, just south of Muncie.

“I have always taken pride in the fact that I was raised in Cowan,” says Wells. “I honestly believe that it is has always been one of the closest-knit communities. Everybody knows everybody and would do anything to help a neighbor in need at anytime.”

Wells, 27, was recently named baseball head coach at his alma mater and is to join the teaching staff at Cowan Elementary School in January 2021. He is currently finishing his tenure in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis at Rhoades Elementary.

Growing up, Wells played at what is now known as the Cowan Baseball and Softball League and then shined for four varsity baseball seasons as a catcher for Cowan Junior/Senior High School, playing his first three for Camden Parkhurst and his senior year for Seth Paul. As a senior in 2012, Wells was an all-state selection. 

“I was able to learn many aspects of the game from both coaches,” says Wells of Parkhurst and Paul. “I was able to learn how to actually ‘enjoy’ the game when I was playing with Camden. 

“During my first two years at Cowan, it was a very memorable time to be a Blackhawk baseball player. I was able to learn from some of the greatest players to ever come from the program during those years. Justin O’Conner, Jake O’Conner, Kirby Campbell, Cody Campbell, just to name a few. 

“I truly fell in love with the game of baseball when I was playing with those guys and playing underneath Camden. I learned how to compete at an extremely high level and also have fun at the same time. It is a mix that I still carry with me today.”

Paul taught Wells a different set of skills.

“We actually had a tendency to share some disagreements when I was playing underneath him,” says Wells. “He challenged me and pushed me mentally more than any coach had before. He made me not just love the game, but begin to understand it and what it takes to win. 

“Our team was not as skilled as the earlier Cowan teams my senior year, but we came together due to great chemistry and how well Seth prepared us. Being the (Hoosier Heritage Conference) champion in 2012 is still one of my favorite baseball memories. We did not win that conference title with skill alone, we won it with passion and hard work. It was a great year to exit as a Blackhawk.”

While in high school, Wells was with the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Mustangs as well as the Muncie American Legion Post 19 Chiefs.

Wells was at catcher/third baseman for two seasons (2013 and 2014) at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for Rick Espeset. The 2013 Spartans went 39-7-1 and played in the program’s second NCAA Division III World Series.

“I learned so many things from Coach Espeset in the two years I was there,” says Wells. “The greatest part of coaching that I learned from Coach Espy was organization. 

“He was the most organized coach that I ever had the privilege of playing for. Every player knew exactly what to do and where to be every single day at practice and that was because of how well-oiled of a machine he created.”

Espeset posted daily practice plans that were down to the exact minute and he expected his players to follow that plan.

Another thing that got Wells’ attention is that Espeset had his seniors do the “grunt” work of baseball.

“It wasn’t the freshman carrying the bags to the buses or making sure the field was in perfect condition — it was the seniors,” says Wells. “This set a tone for me as a player because I knew the seniors were never getting out of the grunt work and that made me want to work even harder as a freshman.”

Wells also recalls an acronym that was a big part of the Manchester program — T.O.B.

That stands for “transfer of blame.”

“Teams that struggle to compete always have a ‘transfer of blame,’ which means they never take accountability for their own mistakes,” says Wells. “They want to transfer the blame to something or someone else. 

“I remember one instance where a player was late to practice and he came in and said, ‘my alarm didn’t go off’ and the whole dugout just responded T.O.B and that player knew that excuse wasn’t going to fly. 

“I only played two years at Manchester, but I learned so many things that I still carry with me today.”

Wells transferred to Ball State University in Muncie and received his Elementary Education degree in 2017.

In 2015 and 2016, Wells coached on Paul’s staff at Delta High School — also in Delaware County. 

“Seth and I are extremely competitive and I believe that was what helped us become successful together at Delta,” says Wells. “He knew my passion and knowledge of the game and allowed me to input my own philosophies and thoughts into the daily practices. 

“The experience with Seth allowed me to truly fall in love with the game as a coach rather than just a player. I started to experience the challenges of coaching that you never think of when you are just playing. He allowed me to observe him and shadow him to start to fully understand what it means to become a head coach.”

Another of Wells’ favorite baseball memories was when Delta won the 2016 IHSAA Class 3A Bellmont Regional and competed in the Kokomo Semistate.

Wells was an assistant at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers in 2019 and 2020. Royals head coach Jeremy Sassanella made him a junior varsity head coach.

“I gained so much knowledge of how to be a coach from Coach Sass,” says Wells. “We began to start working together in late February due to a coach leaving the program in early 2019. 

“I immediately picked up on his genuineness as a person. He honestly cares and loves every single player and staff member in his program. His greatest strength I believe is how well he communicates with his players, staff, and most importantly the parents in the program. 

“He treats every single player in his program the exact same way no matter if they are a freshmen just entering the program or the 4A state final starting pitcher. He expects every player to control two things: FOCUS and EFFORT. If you control those two things he will never be upset with you and I respected that as a staff member.”

Hamilton Southeastern reigned as IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2019. Of course, the 2020 season was taken away by COVID-19.

Wells’ coaching resume all includes three summers with the Indiana Prospects (2018-20). He was head coach for 14U for two years and 15U for one.

“My experience with the Prospects organization was a great one,” says Wells. “I was able to meet great people while I was coaching with them such as Shane Stout, Chad Hinds and Ed Woolwine. 

“These connections let me get to know families in the Indianapolis area where I was able to open my own catching school at (Woolwine-owned) Fishers Sports Academy for local up-and-coming or high school players in the area. I am still currently working with my catching school and excited to start up lessons very soon.”

Aaron married the former Valorie Flick Sept. 5 and the couple resides in Noblesville, Ind. She is a 2016 Cowan graduate. As a volleyball libero she helped the Blackhawks to the first IHSAA state title in any team sport in the fall of 2012. She collected 26 digs in the Class 1A championship match against Loogootee. 

Valorie went on to a standout career at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and completed her first season a head volleyball coach at Daleville Junior/Senior High School in Delaware County in 2020.

Aaron is the son of Indiana Wesleyan University graduates Steve and Karen Wells and the younger brother of Matt Wells (who works for a South Bend area law firm and has a toddler with wife Kristin).

Aaron Wells, a 2012 graduate of Cowan High School in Delaware County, Ind., has been named head baseball coach at his alma mater.

Smolinski now running the show for Saint Joe baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Coach Smo is raring to go.

John Smolinski, who first wore a baseball uniform for Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., as a player in 2004 and was an Indians assistant coach for the past eight seasons is now Saint Joe’s head coach.

Smolinski is anxious to continue the legacy started by John Gumpf, who led the program from 2007-20 with seven sectionals, two regionals, one semistate and a Class 3A state championship in 2017

The last pitch that Brady Gumpf, now at Notre Dame, saw for Saint Joe was thumped for a home run against eventual state champion Andrean in the 2019 Griffith Regional championship game.

“I was fortunate to play for him and coach with him,” says Smolinski of Brady Gumpf’s father, John. “I got to understand his thoughts and how he thinks about the game.

“My goal is to make him proud and build upon the foundation he has started for Saint Joe.

“I’m very loyal to this school. I have big shoes to fill. It’s emotional. It’s high expectations. I’m embracing it.”

Smolinski’s senior year at Saint Joseph (2007) was Gumpf’s first as head coach. The Indians won Plymouth Sectional and one-game regional crowns and lost to future major league pitcher Jarrod Parker and eventual state champion Norwell in the Plymouth Semistate. Norwell finished the 2007 season at 35-0.

“We had a great team and a lot of seniors,” says Smolinski of Saint Joe. “There was a program chance when Coach Gumpf came in there.”

In Gumpf, Smolinski saw a competitor who respected the opposition and demanded the best out of his players and plans to emulate those qualities.

As interim coach, Smolinski led the Indians through Limited Contacted Period practice two days a week with about two dozen players. 

“We did not have any positive COVID cases,” says Smolinski. “Our (practice) structure has changed. We take this very serious.”

Attendance was taken before each workout to make sure every student was able to participate. They were put into smaller groups — each player having a group number — and socially-distanced. 

Coaches and players were always masked-up. He expects to have 13 seniors and 16 freshmen among 50 players for varsity, JV and freshman squads in the spring.

“It went really well,” says Smolinski. “Everybody bought into it.

“Not having the (spring) season hurt everyone (though most everyone played travel ball in the summer). 

“We got after it. I got great feedback from the players. I was happy with the senior leadership. It was great to have some normalcy.”

At the end of the fall, Smolinski applied for the vacant head coaching position and went through the interview process. 

Smolinski, who played four years at Manchester University for Rick Espeset before joining the Saint Joe coaching staff, was named head coach this week. Tom Washburn is expected be a varsity assistant and Dan Mentock the junior varsity head coach. There are other assistants, including a freshmen head coach, to hire.

“The last 24 hours have been kind of crazy,” says Smolinski, speaking on Nov. 4. “A lot of people have reached out to me. 

“At Saint Joe, we’re a family. You can tell. People are willing to help out.”

Smolinski says players will likely get to help design an alternate jersey for the Indians. Recently, that look has featured black though the school colors are Columbia Blue and White. Coach Smo says Saint Joe will continuing to don a black cap.

Away from his coaching job, Smolinski is a self-employed social media manager that amplifies athletic accounts on Twitter including WhistleSports and FanSided.

Saint Joseph (with an enrollment around 850) is a member of the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart, Jimtown, John Glenn, Marian, Mishawaka, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington).

The Indians are in a Class 3A sectional grouping with Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Clay and South Bend Washington.

John Smolinski, a 2007 graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind., is now head baseball coach at his alma mater.
John Smolinski has been named head baseball coach at Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Ind. The 2007 Saint Joe graduate was a varsity assistant for eight years on the staff of John Gumpf.

Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Purdue’s Nisle getting chance to hone skills in College Summer League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Nisle has been to Victory Field.

So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.

That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.

Through a partnership of Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., CSL sprouted as a developmental opportunity.

“Having a place to play is very nice,” says Nisle of the 12-team CSL. “It’s great competition.

“You’re seeing great (pitching) arms.

“I’m getting good at-bats and playing time.”

Nisle plays for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. 

Purdue outfielder Jack Firestone has also been chosen for the CSL All-Star Game.

A 2017 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., Nisle has played three seasons at Purdue.

In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.

During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs. 

“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”

Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.

“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.

When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.

“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”

Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.

“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”

The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).

“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.

“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”

Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.

“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.

“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”

Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.

Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.

For his 16U and 17U summers, Ben played for the Ryan Bunnell-coached Indiana Bulls

The summer leading into his freshman year at Purdue, Nisle did not play baseball. He went to campus early to take summer courses and work out.

Gerry Nisle (who works at Pepsi) and wife Michele (who is employed by Franciscan Alliance) have three children — Alex (24), Ben (21) and Mia (14). 

Gerry played football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and Michele was a gymnast at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Alex started his college baseball career at SJC. When the school was closed, he finished at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He was named to the all-Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference second team in 2019. Mia plays soccer and basketball.

Ben Nisle, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at Purdue University. He has been chosen for the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game Thursday, July 16 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Purdue University Photo)

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

Western Michigan’s Piotrowicz gets hitters to develop routines

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.

A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.

Piotrowicz, who played at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., describes his associate head coach duties.

“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”

Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.

When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.

“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.

“Each guy’s different.”

Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.

It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.

“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”

It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.

“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”

Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.

“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”

The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.

Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).

Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.

Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.

In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.

“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.

“I learn something everyday.”

Prior to Western Michigan, Piotrowicz was an assistant for three seasons (2011-13) at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, where former big leaguer Tracy Woodson was head coach at current Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack was pitching coach.

“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.

In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.

In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.

Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.

Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.

After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.

Recruited to Bethel by Mike Hutcheon, Piotrowicz played one season for Pilots head coach Seth Zartman and assistants Dick Siler and Javier Jimenez.

“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.

“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.

“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”

Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.

“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”

Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.

“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”

At Glenn, Piotrowicz played for John Nadolny aka “Nud.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better high school coach,” says Piotrowicz. “He coached us tough. He coached us fair.

“He was hard on you, but you know he had good intentions behind it. He wanted you to be better. Nud was great.”

The Glenn Falcons were 2002 Class 2A Jimtown Sectional champions, losing to Manchester in the Jimtown Regional championship game.

In 2003, Glenn won the sectional and regional at Jimtoiwn then lost to Frankton in the 2A State Semifinals.

The 2004 Falcons had a win-filled regular season then lost to Fairfield in the 2A Jimtown Sectional title game.

Piotrowicz, a catcher, had a backyard neighbor and best friend named Andy Groves.

“I caught him since Little League,” says Piotrowicz. “We had all kinds of fights over pitch selection.”

Right-hander Groves pitched four seasons at Purdue University (2004-07) and two in the Colorado Rockies organization (2007-08).

Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).

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A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.