Tag Archives: River Forest

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

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

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

Alum VanWienen wants best for Kankakee Valley baseball

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

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

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

Mysliwy focused on Whiting baseball development

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

Tim Misliwy has a plan as he guides baseball at Whiting (Ind.) High School.
“My main point of emphasis of the program is to focus on player development,” says Misliwy, who led the Oilers for the first time in 2021 after serving as an assistant on the staff of Adam Musielak. “I believe my job is to try to get the best out of every player. We focus a lot on drill work and skill development to try to help every player improve.
“I want to put my players in the best position to continue playing baseball at whatever level they want.”
Recent Whiting graduates Nicholas Semancik (Class of 2020) and Austin Crocker (Class of 2021) are on the baseball roster at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
Whiting (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Bishop Noll Institute, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills and Wheeler).
Hanover Central was the IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up in 2021.
Also in 2021, Whiting was part of a Class 2A sectional grouping with Bishop Noll Institute, Bowman Leadership Academy, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Wheeler. The Oilers have won four sectional titles — the last in 2019 (when they advanced to semistate before losing to eventual state champion Alexandria-Monroe).
“We have some big goals at Whiting,” says Misliwy. “We have goals of getting back (to semistate) and beyond that.
“We still have a few players from that (2019) team who are seniors now and they got a taste of that success and would like to recreate (in 2022).
“We were a very young program last year, which was my first season, and this year I’m hoping the guys develop and mature into a very successful team.”
Misliwy’s 2021 assistants were Steven Taylor and James Martinez and he hopes they will return in 2022.
The Oilers share a ballpark with Calumet College and the summer collegiate Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“I love getting to play at Oil City Stadium,” says Misliwy of the diamond on 119th Street and very near Lake Michigan. “It’s a great facility and we are very lucky to get to call that our home field. A lot of teams want to schedule games with us mainly to come play at our park. The crew that takes care of the field does a great job making sure it is in great condition every year.
“I honestly think it’s one of the nicest home parks in the state of Indiana and we are obviously very proud to call it home.”
Oil City Stadium was host to the 2016 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ends Oct. 16. With many players in football and other fall sports, Whiting did not have baseball activities this fall.
While the Oilers don’t have any official feeder systems, players tend to come from area leagues (including Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth) and travel ball organizations.
Misliwy is in his 13th year of teaching — all at the high school level. He instructs Advanced Placement Stats, AP Calculus, Pre-Calculus and Business Math at Whiting. He formerly taught math and coached baseball and bowling at Bishop Noll Institute.
A 2002 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where played baseball for Caravan coach Brian Hurry, Misliwy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree as a Mathematics/Business Administration double major at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., a Secondary Education degree from Calumet College and a masters in Sports Administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Tim Misliwy

Kankakee Valley coach Nelson values discipline, accountability

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season.

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

“I like our depth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During his stint at Portage, Nelson assisted Bob Dixon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A masters degree in administration was later earned by Nelson.

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

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

Julian, Bishop Noll Warriors building ‘culture of togetherness’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball at Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute has a history full of hardware.

Noll, a Catholic-based college preparatory school, has won 27 sectional titles — the last in 2018. State championships were earned in 1968 and 2004.

The Warriors lost to eventual sectional champion Whiting in the first round of the 2019 tournament.

“We’re looking to get that sectional (title) back this year,” says second-year Noll head coach Ryan Julian. “We had 13 seniors last year. It slipped through our fingers.”

Ryan Bradtke was a four-year varsity starter for Noll and senior in 2019. The pitcher/center fielder is now on the team at Wabash College.

Jake Fuehrmeyer, a 2019 salutatorian and four-year Warriors starter at shortstop, is now at Notre Dame and was expected to be involved with baseball at least at the club level.

Noll is part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting.

Julian enters his fourth season in the program in 2020 with veterans leaders, including seniors Devin Padilla, Hunter Laurincik and Nico Calzonzi and junior Aiden Companiott, and plenty of talented youngsters to contribute to building a “culture of togetherness.”

Catcher Padilla will be a fourth-year varsity player. Center fielder Laurincik is heading into his third year with the varsity. Calzonzi is a relief pitcher and outfielder. Third baseman Companiott is already a three-year starter who is expected to bat in the middle of the order.

Julian, who counts director of admissions Jeff Stur (Noll Class of 1998) as his varsity assistant and math teacher Eloy Melero (Noll Class of 2014) as his junior varsity coach, says he expects to have 30 to 35 players in the program — varsity and JV. Many of those being freshmen and sophomores.

“There will be a lot of learning, but we are talented at the younger levels,” says Julian. “We’ll practice as one big unit.”

The Warriors practice at Irving Park near the BNI campus. The first two home dates of the season are scheduled there with the rest at either Hammond’s Dowling Park (home to Purdue Northwest baseball) or Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard (home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats).

Noll gets players from local youth leagues such as Hammond Optimist as well as travel organizations like the Hammond/Morris Chiefs, Indiana Playmakers and Northwest Indiana Shockers. Players are also involved with Region Legion Expos.

As a 2A school, Noll has several multi-sport athletes. Julian says preparation for baseball begins in earnest in January with workouts from 6 to 7:30 a.m.

“I like to go in the morning,” says Juilan. “That way they can take care of their academics after school and finish up (other winter sports).”

Julian notes that as a spring sport, baseball contends with things like prom and graduation and at the end of a long academic/sports year.

“Once you get to May, it’s hard to keep kids focused,” says Julian. “By spring, they’re pretty burned out.”

Noll (enrollment around 440) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting are baseball-playing members).

Each conference team meets twice in a home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Warriors will also play Catholic teams across the Illinois line, including Marian Catholic and Mount Carmel.

Julian is a 2007 Mount Carmel graduate, where he played baseball for Caravan head coach Brian Hurry.

“For him, it’s all about team,” says Julian of Hurry. “I want to bring this idea of family (at Noll).”

He also wants to put the ball in play on offense and keep pressure on the opposition.

“No easy outs,” says Julian.

At Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Julian was part of a baseball program led by Carl Tebon.

He credits Tebon for emphasizing having fun with the game while also working hard and seeing the mental side of it.

“It’s a thinking man’s game as well,” says Julian, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Loras in 2011 and a master’s in history from Valparaiso (Ind.) University in 2018. He teaches history and economics at BNI. He was head baseball coach for four years at Oregon-Davis High School in Hamlet, Ind., before coming to Noll.

Ryan and Kaitlin Julian reside in Munster, Ind., and have a daughter named Isabelle (3). Kaitlin Julian is a registered nurse in Chicago.

ELOYMELEROHammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute graduate Eloy Melero is junior varsity baseball coach at his alma mater. (BNI Photo)

JEFFSTURHammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute graduate Jeff Stur is varsity assistant baseball coach at his alma mater. (BNI Photo)

RYANJULIANRyan Julian, a graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Illinois, is varsity baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute. (BNI Photo)

Bridges wants Hanover Central Wildcats to be smart, aggressive on bases

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Power may not show up at the field every day.

But there’s no reason aggressiveness on the base paths can’t be a part of each game.

That’s the way third-year Hanover Central High School head baseball coach Ryan Bridges sees it as he looks forward to the 2019 season.

“We did a very good job last year of taking the extra base,” says Bridges, who played four seasons at Griffith (Ind.) High School and five at Purdue University. “We’d see the ball in the dirt and were gone. It’s something I expect out of each one of my kids — to be a good, aggressive base runners.

“We always try to put pressure on the defense and make them make a play. High school kids are prone to make mistakes — even the best of them. A little bit of pressure can go a long way.

“You’re not always going to have those boppers. You can teach these kids to run bases and keep going. I can keep playing that style.”

Bridges and his Wildcats are part of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

To get his team ready for the postseason, Bridges has beefed up the non-conference schedule. It includes contests against IHSAA members Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley, Lowell, Munster, Portage and Valparaiso and Illiana Christian, an Illinois High School Association school in Dyer, Ind.

A year ago, Bridges took his team to McCutcheon (now led by former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber).

A game in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary is scheduled against Lowell on Friday, April 12.

Hanover Central (enrollment around 715) is part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Kankakee Valley, Knox, Twin Lakes and Wheeler. The Wildcats have won one sectional crown — 2011. That team went on to be 2A state runners-up.

Bridges played for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith and graduated in 2007.

A corner infielder and designated hitter for Purdue, Bridges appeared in 126 games (85 as a starter) and hit .288 with six home runs and 61 runs batted in. A back injury in his freshmen season led to a medical redshirt.

“I enjoyed every second of all five years of it,” says Bridges of his Purdue days.

He credits Schreiber for his attention to detail whether it was a bunt play, study tables or the amount of commitment it took to achieve excellence.

“He likes things done a certain way,” says Bridges. “If kids understand the level of commitment needed at the next level, it will help them for the four years of high school.”

Recent HC graduates with college programs include Troy Cullen and Jose Sanchez at Indiana University South Bend, Michael Biegel at Calumet College of St. Joseph and Eric Lakomek at Wabash College. Among players Bridges coached at Griffith there’s Kody Hoese at Tulane University and Amir Wright at Saint Leo University.

Current Wildcats shortstop Nolan Tucker has signed with Valparaiso University. Sophomore center fielder Jared Comia has received D-I offers.

Purdue was Big Ten Conference champions in Bridges’ final season (2012). Two of his Boliermaker teammates — catcher Kevin Plawecki and pitcher Nick Wittgren — are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Bridges graduated from Purdue and has a special education endorsement and masters degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. He taught in the Griffith system and was an assistant on Jennings’ baseball staff for four seasons before going to Hanover Central, where he teaches physical education at the middle school in addition to going baseball.

While he may not have been that way when he was playing for him, Bridges says he saw Jennings come to the see the value of giving his players a physical and mental break when it’s needed.

“We get the whole week off before tryouts,” says Bridges of his Wildcats program. “Once it starts, there’s no break.

“That’s pretty important.”

During this IHSAA limited contact period where coaches can lead their teams in baseball activities for two hours two times a week, Bridges has players coming in at 5:30 a.m.

“We have quite a few basketball kids,” says Bridges. “Coach (Bryon) Clouse is nice enough to let my pitchers throw.”

“I the way they have it set up now,” says Bridges. “Coaches are aren’t running these kids four days a week in January and February.

“But I wish they would let pitchers throw a little more. Arm care is important and some of these kids have nowhere to throw — not only pitchers, but position players.”

Hanover Central pitchers began bullpens this week. Bridges will slowly progress their pitch counts moving up to the first official day of practice (March 11) and beyond.

“I’ll use more arms earlier in the (season) before I can get arms in shape,” says Bridges, who does not recall any of his hurlers reaching the limit of the pitch count rule adopted in 2017 (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days). I’m very precautionary when it comes to that. Some of these kids have futures (as college pitchers).”

Bridges’ coaching staff features Nic Sampognaro, Cole Mathys, Anthony Gomez and Mike Halls. Sampognaro is a 2011 Hanover Central graduate who played at Saint Joseph’s College. Volunteer Mathys is also an HC graduate. Gomez played at Munster and moved on to Vincennes University and Ball State University. Halls is in charge of the Wildcats’ junior varsity.

Noting that the community is growing and that there are a number of baseball players in the eighth grade, Bridges says there is the possibility of having a C-team in the future.

Hanover Central is located in Cedar Lake, Ind. Cedar Lake also sends some students to Crown Point. Some St. John students wind up at Hanover Central.

Hanover Central Middle School fields a team for Grades 6-8 in the fall.

In the summer, there is Cedar Lake Youth Baseball and Saint John Youth Baseball. Both offer teams for Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth players. There are also a number of area travel ball organizations.

Bridges has known John Mallee for two decades. He went to him for hitting lessons as a kid. He is now a hitting advisor for Mallee and this summer will coach the Northwest Indiana Shockers 16U team. Indoor workouts are held at All Aspects Baseball and Softball Academy in South Chicago Heights, Ill., and The Sparta Dome in Crown Point, Ind. Mallee is the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Catcher Jesse Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate, made his professional debut in the Phillies system in 2018.

Hanover Central plays it home games on-campus. Since Bridges has been with the Wildcats, they have added a batting cage behind the home dugout and got a portable “Big Bubba” portable batting cage and pitching machine.

“We always looking to improve the field,” says Bridges. “But I want to help the kids first with their skills.”

Ryan and Nicole Bridges have a daughter. Harper turns 2 in March.

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The Hanover Central Wildcats (Hanover Central Graphic)

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Head coach Ryan Bridges and his Hanover Central Wildcats baseball team.

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The baseball team from Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., gathers at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary. The Wildcats, coached by Ryan Bridges, are to play at the home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats again April 12, 2019.

RYANNICOLEHARPERBRIDGES

The Bridges family (from left): Ryan, Nicole and Harper. Ryan Bridges is head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He teaches physical education at Hanover Central Middle School.

 

Becich welcoming new bunch of Wheeler Bearcats to varsity baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A new bunch of Bearcats will get a chance to make an impact on Wheeler High School baseball in 2019.

The 2018 squad had several seniors who had been playing for the school located in Union Township near Valparaiso, Ind., since they were freshmen.

Jake Armentrout moved on to Xavier University in Cincinnati. Clayton Sanders signed at the University of Saint Francis in Joliet, Ill.

Catcher Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit who hit .388 last spring, is back for his senior year. Rex Stills, who hit .302 in 60 plate appearances as a freshman, is back for his sophomore season.

There will be opportunities for others to make their mark on varsity baseball for the first time.

How will the Bearcats go about doing that?

“We’re looking to do all the small things right and, hopefully, everything else falls in line with it,” says Kyle Becich, who is entering his ninth year with the program and fifth as head coach. “We’re rebuilding a foundation.”

Becich, who spent four seasons as a Wheeler assistant on the staff of Josh Long, counts Tommy O’Shea, Phil Sanchez, Christian Rosta and Payton Ball as assistant coaches.

The Bearcats generally have 24 players in the program for varsity and junior varsity squads. Some players swing back and forth based on the needs that day.

Wheeler (enrollment of about 540) is in the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting as baseball-playing members).

Past non-conference foes have included Crown Point, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit, Hebron, Hobart, Lowell, Merrillville and North Newton. The Bearcats have met Hebron in the annual High School Baseball Challenge hosted by the Gary SouthShore RailCats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary.

Wheeler is in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Andrean, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox and Twin Lakes. The Bearcats last won a sectional title in 2008.

“It’s a tough sectional,” says Becich of a field which is full of traditionally-strong teams and produced the 2018 3A state champion (Andrean).

Wheeler plays its home games on its campus at Richard Wendt Field. Wendt, a former Wheeler coach, died in 2012.

Recent upgrades to the facility include re-building the pitcher’s mound,  installing a new home plate and pitcher’s rubber, leveling the playing surface, realigning the bases, adding new wind screens in the outfield and reworking the speaker system.

Every October, the Bearcats have a field day where players, coaches and parents put the field to rest for the winter.

During the current off-season period, the Bearcats are getting stronger in the weight room.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, IHSAA and Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association have been working together on a proposal to add an arm care program to the baseball calendar.

“I support that, especially for kids that have nowhere to throw right now,” says Becich, noting that some of his players can work out with their travel teams at indoor facilities but not all have that kind of access. “You only have one arm your entire life and so many bullets to throw. It’s best to protect it when you can.”

Wheeler baseball has also been building a relationship with Union Township Little League. Last season, players who hope to one day don the Green, White and Orange were invited to work out on the field and were treated to pizza.

Becich, 32, is a 2005 Munster High School graduate. He played baseball and football for the Mustangs then one football season at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. He finished his education degree at Indiana University in Bloomington. His first job out of college was as a social studies teacher and coach at Wheeler.

Becich credits former assistant principal Jack Schimanski for playing a major role in his development.

“He was a huge mentor for me,” says Becich of Schimanski. “I was picking his brain all the time, learning some of the minor details.”

Schimanski had been a head coach at Joliet (Ill.) Catholic High School and learned much from Gordie Gillespie, who won 1,893 games in his 58-year college coaching career.

Kyle and Kelsey Becich have two children — son Liam (4) and daughter Reese (3).

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Mason Diaz, a Northern Kentucky University commit, catches  for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Rex Stills crosses the plate for Wheeler High School during the 2018 baseball season. He is back for 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Mason Diaz, Sam Beier, Jake Armentrout, Nate Gosbin, Adam Wagoner and Hunter Catherman line up for the Wheeler Bearcats at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Diaz returns for Wheeler in 2019. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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The Wheeler baseball team gathers during the annual High School Challenge at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Wheeler is in Union Township near Valparaiso.

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Kyle Becich coaches third base for the Wheeler High School baseball team. The 2019 season will be his ninth in the program and fifth as head coach of the Bearcats.

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Head coach Kyle Becich (left) and assistant Tommy O’Shea watch their Wheeler High School Bearcats baseball team.

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Kyle Becich, head baseball coach and social studies teacher at Wheeler High School near Valparaiso, Ind., and wife Kelsey have two children — son Liam and daughter Reese.

 

Musielak, Whiting Oilers enjoy unique baseball perspective

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s a unique baseball venue.

Oil City Stadium — home to the Whiting (Ind.) High School Oilers (also the Calumet College of St. Joseph Crimson Wave and summer-collegiate Northwest Indiana Oilmen) — offers views of the BP Refinery and is just blocks from Lake Michigan and the high school.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” says Adam Musielak, head baseball coach at Whiting High since the 2016 season and part of the Oilers staff since 2015. “It’s got to be one of the best high school fields in the entire state.”

In recent years, Whiting has hosted both IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments at the facility on 119th Street. The park was on display in 2016 for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches North/South All-Star Series.

Oil City Stadium is maintained by City of Whiting grounds crew.

“They do amazing work,” says Musielak. “The kids that get to play on that don’t know how lucky they are. At most schools, you spend 20 minutes after the game or practice raking the field.”

Being so close to the water also means there’s a chill at many Whiting home games.

“It can be 45 degrees in Whiting and 70 degrees in other places,” says Musielak. “I always pack my cold gear no matter what the weather’s like.”

The Oilers are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison and River Forest. Whiting has won three sectionals — 2008, 2009 and 2010. The Oilers were in the championship game in 2017 and 2018.

Musielak welcomes back two players for 2019 that have been Whiting starters since they were freshmen — senior Nino Barbosa and junior Aidan Plemons.

Barbosa has played many positions and done some pitching. He paced the 2018 Oilers in most offensive categories.

Musielak says the three-sport standout could end up playing football, basketball or baseball at the college level.

Right-hander Plemons was Whiting’s No. 1 pitcher a year ago and hits in the heart of the lineup and also has college baseball aspirations.

Recent graduates moving on to college diamonds are right-hander Cody Bucsko (Calumet College of St. Joseph) and left-hander Ryan Veloz (South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill.).

Musielak’s coaching staff features Tim Mysliwy and volunteer Brad Johnson. A third assistant is being sought.

Mysliwy brings knowledge in player development. He has multiple drills for every situation.

“He’s someone I lean on big time,” says Musielak of Mysliwy. “Since we share our field with Calumet College, we must come up with unique practice ideas when we’re indoors.

“There are no wasted days. We’re getting work in no matter what we’re doing.”

Whiting (enrollment of about 430) has many multi-sport athletes that share facilities.

“We make do with what we’ve got and who we’ve got,” says Musielak. “Our goal is to always get them better.

“With the kids that are working hard, you can see the results.”

Musielak expects to keep 26 to 28 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules.

Traveling on smaller activity buses, the Oilers usually take 13 or 14 to road games with a few more at home games.

“We make sure every kid gets an opportunity to play once a week no matter the level,” says Musielak.

Whiting Little League, Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League and travel organizations help feed the Oilers program.

Whiting belongs to the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Wheeler).

“It’s great competition,” says Musielak. “It helps us prepare for the postseason.”

Musielak is a 2008 graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, where he played football and baseball for four years and basketball for three.

He was quarterback and team leader for the Spartans in football, playing for head coach Eric Miller.

“He’s someone I really look up to,” says Musielak of Miller. “He taught me how to be a young man and do the right thing. As simple as it sounds, that is something that has stuck with me to this day.

“He’s a great person.”

A pitcher, Musielak played on the diamond for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller and assistant John Bogner (now head baseball coach at Highland).

“He taught you what it meant to have a little toughness and some resiliency,” says Musielak of Dan Miller. “He gave us confidence

“He always believed we would win and that trickled down to the rest of us and we believed it.”

Musielak cherishes the opportunity to compete each spring against his alma mater and be welcomed home by mentor Bogner.

“He’s been good about walking me through the head coaching process,” says Musielak.

He was an assistant football coach for one season at Highland and is still part of the grid staff at Griffith High School, where Ben Geffert logged his fourth season as head coach this fall.

Musielak first coached basketball as a boys varsity assistant to former Oilers head coach Tim Hopps in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Kevin Lenz was the head baseball coach in Musielak’s first spring with the Oilers.

Musielak enjoyed the Japanese program at Highland and had considered teaching that language to high schoolers.

Instead, he graduated from Indiana University in 2013 and is now in his third year of instructing fifth graders at Ready Elementary in Griffith. His dog is named “Hoosier” and he enjoys rooting for IU’s sports teams.

Adam is the third child of Paul and Joyce Musielak, who both work at Siemer Heating & Cooling in Highland. Older brother Paul Musielak owns Gem Homes in Indianapolis and his younger sister Christina Musielak teaches special education in Crown Point, Ind. Adam is two years younger than Paul and two years older than Christina.

“Dad likes to say he’s been in every home in The Region,” says Musielak. “He taught me how to throw a football and a baseball. When I took pitching lessons, he was my personal catcher.”

A paraprofessional when Adam and his siblings were in school, he credits his mother for instilling an appreciation for education. She was at every game and organized team meals.

Adam and Paul were competitive while growing up.

“He showed me how to gain some toughness,” says Musielak. “My sister played a couple of sports when she was younger. She was the water girl/manager for the football team.

He marvels at what she does as a teacher.

“I’ve never met anybody that has such a heart of gold,” says Musielak.

Two Whiting graduates played in the majors — outfielder Al Pilarcik (1956-61 with the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox) and infielder Larry Fritz (one game with the 1975 Philadelphia Phillies). Pilarcik is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

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Adam Musielak, a Highland (Ind.) High School and Indiana University graduate, is head baseball coach at Whiting (Ind.) High School and an assistant football coach at Griffith (Ind.) High School. He is also a fan of the Chicago Bears.

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Adam Musielak has been part of the Whiting (Ind.) High School baseball coaching staff since 2015. He heads into his fourth season as head coach in 2019.

 

Competitiveness, accountability priorities for Lake Station Edison’s Mahar

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a young coach leading the way, the Eagles of Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School are looking to reach higher on the baseball diamond.

Ben Mahar, 25, is running the Lake Station program with the help of assistants Ryan Hodge and Matt Johnson.

The 2018 season will mark Mahar’s third at the Lake County school. Participation has increased each year. He started with about a dozen, moved to 18 last year (when he began teaching at the school) and this year has around 25 with Hodge doing much of the recruiting.

Mahar and company are working with eager athletes, but many of them do not have the baseball backgrounds of some teams on the Eagles’ schedule. Some are just coming to the game for the first time in high school.

“They have so talent but they haven’t been coached on how to use that talent,” says Mahar. “They lack the belief in themselves that they are able to compete at a higher level when they can.

“Instilling confidence is a very hard thing. It takes constant repetition in practice and them realizing that — after awhile — they can coach themselves.”

With knowledge, players can see for themselves where they need to make adjustments.

“The biggest thing is them building the accountability with each other.,” says Mahar “If they’re holding each other accountable, it makes our job a lot easier.

“We hold them to a higher standard because of what they’ve decided to do.”

Mahar graduated from Mundelein (Ill.) High School in 2011 and pitched at Valparaiso University, graduating in 2015.

He credits Crusaders head coach Brian Schmack for his emphasis on the competitive nature of baseball.

“If you were not competing with yourself, your teammates or the people in the dugout across from you, what were you doing it for?,” says Mahar. “That’s what Coach Hodge and I try to bring to the program at Lake Station.”

Hodge, who grew up playing baseball in northwest Indiana, left corporate America in 2011 and coordinates his work schedule around supporting the game of baseball in the Calumet Region.

Hodge and Mahar are hoping to bring a summer program for Lake Station players if not in 2018 then 2019.

“The kids want to do something,” says Hodge.

There’s also a unity and camaraderie factor.

“The more they’re hanging around each other, the better,” says Mahar.

Johnson played at Marquette Catholic in Michigan City and is working toward his teaching degree.

Mahar teaches world history. Is there a connection between that and baseball?

“Baseball is a conceptual learning process. You’re constantly learning in baseball,” says Mahar. “With history, you’re constantly learning how concepts in the past are affecting us today.”

Besides Lake Station, baseball members of the Greater South Shore Conference are Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting.

This year, the conference is going away from Saturday doubleheaders and league games are to be played on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Mahar says winning conference games will be seen as no more or no less important than winning out-of-conference contests.

“Any time you step out on the field, you’re there to win a game,” says Mahar. “If we’re putting emphasis on one game or the other, it does a disservice to the opponent we’re playing it does a disservice to us.

“There’s no one game I’m seeking to win more than others. Winning every game is the important thing.”

Lake Station has an enrollment around 380 and competes in IHSAA Class 2A at state tournament time. With Bowman Academy and Gary Roosevelt sitting out the postseason, the 2017 Whiting Sectional was a four-teamer with Lake Station, Whiting, Hammond Bishop Noll and River Forest.

In program history, Lake Station has won four sectionals (1968, 1969, 1973 and 2005) and three regionals (1968, 1969 and 2005).

Baseball has evolved to the point where some program have “pitcher-only” players — aka “P.O.’s.” That was Mahar’s role as a high school senior and in college.

That won’t be the approach for the Eagles.

“For a program like us, we need everybody to pitch,” says Mahar.

A product of the travel baseball system, Mahar has seen the overuse of player’s arms.

He sees players attending showcases in December when their arm is not ready and they are on a path toward injury if they do not get a handle on proper arm care.

He intends to be careful with the arms of his Lake Station players.

As a part of the players taking ownership of the program and being accountable, they are responsible for the maintenance of the Eagles’ on-campus diamond. A list of duties is posted in the dugout.

“They take pride in taking care of the field,” says Mahar. “We’ve made significant improvements. We’ve re-done mound and the plate and edged the infield and it’s all the kids doing it.

“There’s always stuff that could be done. It’s their field.”

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Lake Station Edison Junior/Senior High School baseball will be led in 2018 by head coach Ben Mahar (right) and assistants Ryan Hodge (left) and Matt Johnson (not pictured). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Kosinski sees continuity lead to success for River Forest baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a new sense of stability and direction, the baseball program at River Forest High School in Hobart has turned things around.

With head coach Michael Kosinski and assistant Mark Zimmerle providing the guidance, the Ingots have been molded into a competitive squad.

Kosinski played four varsity seasons at River Forest before graduating in 2009. With four different head coaches, the Ingots won a total of 15 games.

Good enough as a right-handed pitcher to be recruited by Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Kosinski joined the Pumas. Because of financial issues, he only stayed a half year. But he soaked up all the baseball he could from head coach Rick O’Dette (now at Saint Leo University in Florida since the closing of SJC following the 2017 season) and the rest of the squad.

“I would watch everything that went on,” says Kosinski.

He put the knowledge to good use when he returned home.

“I always wanted to coach, but I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity at such a young age,” says Kosinski. “I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

The 2018 season marks Zimmerle’s 10th with River Forest and eighth with Kosinski. Zimmerle was head coach when Kosinski came back and the two traded roles before the 2015 campaign.

“We’ve built up a great relationship and we are where we are now,” says Kosinski. “We’ve done as good a job as we can with the talent’s that’s presented to us. We’ve taken less and gotten more out of it.

“A lot of our guys have bought into the program and that’s a big thing.”

During the school day, Zimmerle is head of buildings and grounds and Kosinski is head custodian.

As baseball coaches, the two have stressed repetition, fundamentals and trust and watched the Ingots set single-season school records for wins in both 2015 and 2016, going 15-14 in each of those springs. The 2017 squad posted a 14-13 mark.

“Repetition and fundamentals — that’s what we preach,” says Kosinski. “We want it to become muscle memory.”

When college players come around Ingot practices, they see the same kinds of things being done that they do at their schools.

“Nothing is better there,” says Kosinski. “It’s just said differently.”

Kosinski tends to work with pitchers and catchers and Zimmerle directs the offensive side of things.

“He explains it better,” says Kosinski.

River Forest is an IHSAA Class 2A school that has been competing in the Whiting Sectional. The Ingots are still looking for their first sectional hardware.

The eight baseball-playing schools in the Greater South Shore Conference are River Forest, Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting. For 2018, league teams will play home-and-home two-game series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

With this set-up, GSSC teams will have to use more than one starting pitcher against any given conference opponent.

Last season, the IHSAA adopted a new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It’s kind of what we’ve been doing,” says Kosinski. “Our (starters) get four or five days rest. (The new rule) also creates a whole different dynamic. Boone Grove pitched (their ace) a lot before the rule. They were a different team when he wasn’t on the mound. That’s what I like about it.”

Kosinski also has a different take on collecting a game’s 21 outs.

“I used to throw everything hard and try to strike everyone out,” says Kosinski. “(Right-hander) Ryan Slavey (who now plays at nearby Calumet College of St. Joseph) led the state and set a school record for us with 155 strikeouts (in 91 1/3 innings) in 2015. Now, I’d rather you get 18 ground balls and a couple pop-ups and get us through the week.”

Kosinski notes that River Forest right-hander Anthony Rodriguez had never earned a varsity letter in any sport before tossing 45 2/3 innings for the Ingots as a junior last spring.

“He was phenomenal,” says Kosinski. Right-handers Josiah Zambrana (51 innings) and Milan Wendrickx (40) are both expected back for the their senior and junior years, respectively.

“We will base our pitching rotation off what wins we can get,” says Kosinski.

The Ingots recently began fall workouts and had around 30 players come out on the first day. River Forest has only a varsity squad and Kosinski and Zimmerle generally keep 15 to 18 players. The school’s on-campus field got its first electronic scoreboard in 2017.

While there is no formal feeder system for the Ingots, players do come from Lake Station Little League. Once junior high basketball is complete, Kosinski expects to get around 10 seventh and eighth graders — future Ingots — to come out and help with the varsity team.

“The seventh grade class is what we’re really banking on,” says Kosinski of a group that was coached at Lake Station Little League as fifth graders by Scott Galligan.

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Michael Kosinski, a 2009 River Forest High School graduate, heads into his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. He was an Ingots assistant for four seasons before taking over the program in 2015.