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Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

JASONAMELIACOMBS

Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

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O’Neil brings discipline, enthusiasm to Danville Warriors baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Backed by an administration and community that makes baseball a priority, second-year head coach Pat O’Neil and his Danville Community High School Warriors are aiming high.

“I want to bring a sense of confidence to the players and the program,” says O’Neil. “They can be as good as they want to be by putting in the correct amount of time, doing things the right way and doing things together.

“I’m taking the same approach I did at Brownsburg. A state championship is your goal. It’s not given to you. You’ve got to put in the effort and go the extra mile. I’m really pleased with the direction the (Danville) program is going.”

Including five seasons at the helm for Fountain Central High School, 10 for Brownburg High School and one for Danville Community, O’Neil’s career record is 348-112.

Armed with discipline, enthusiasm and organization learned as a player and later assistant for high school baseball coaching icon Ken Schreiber while serving on his LaPorte staff for IHSAA state championships in 1987 and 1990, O’Neil led Brownsburg on the diamond from 2001-10. The Bulldogs earned a state crown in 2005 after a state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

“The main goal is to get the blue (championship) ring at the end of the season,” says O’Neil, a 1975 LaPorte graduate and younger brother of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chip O’Neil. “I’ve got three blue rings and I know how good the blue feels.”

O’Neil coached future major leaguers at Brownsburg — pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen and catcher Tucker Barnhart — and still communicates regularly with all three. In the three years after leaving the Bulldogs program, O’Neil took time off from coaching and saw many of their games.

When Lebanon High School head coach Rick Cosgray was looking for a pitching coach, he invited O’Neil to join the Tigers staff. In the first of his three seasons (2014-16), Lebanon won its first sectional since 2000.

Danville, which won the most-recent of its eight sectional titles in 2015, went 15-11 in 2017 and lost a 1-0 pitchers’ duel to eventual champion Indian Creek in the semifinals of the Class 3A Danville Sectional.

“It just came down to us not making a couple plays in the seventh inning,” says O’Neil, who saw the game’s lone run score on an 0-2 passed ball with two outs in the top of the seventh. Danville had runners at second and third when the game ended.

O’Neil’s varsity assistants are Danville graduates Jake Marckel and John Fuson with Chris Marckel (father of Jake) leading the junior varsity. O’Neil says he expects to have around 36 players in the program in the spring.

The 2018 Warriors will sport a roster full of seniors who are three- and four-year starters.

“They want to send a message that Danville baseball is program to be reckoned with and they want to lead the charge,” says O’Neil, who counts catcher Tarron Lawson, first baseman Ethan Shafer, right-handed pitcher Jackson Wynn, center fielder Dylan Snider, right-hander Tristan Morrell and right-hander/third baseman Isaac McGregor in the Class of 2018.

Lawson, Shafer and Wynn are Danville’s tri-captains. Lawson has committed to Eastern Illinois University while there has been college interest in some of the other Warriors.

O’Neil looks to get contributions from a junior class which includes shortstop/second baseman Blake Mills, utility man Mark Broderick, catcher Shane Bradley and right-hander Max Schumacher.

The importance of the unit is stressed by O’Neil.

“It’s all about team and there’s a role for everybody,” says O’Neil. “We encourage them about doing the best they can.”

The veteran coach notes that it doesn’t really matter where a batter appears on the lineup card.

“In the game, there’s only one legit lead-off hitter in the game (and that’s in the first inning),” says O’Neil. “When it’s your turn to produce, go up and produce. I want everybody to think they’re the No. 3 hitter.”

O’Neil cites the example of Austin Nickol at Brownsburg. He batted No. 5 and went into the 2004 State Finals hitting .281 with eight runs batted in then batted in the No. 9 hole and hit  .407 with 22 RBI going into the 2005 championship game. The Bulldogs wound up 35-0 and Nickol received a scholarship to Butler University.

Danville belongs to the Sagamore Conference (along with Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone). The conference observes a schedule with home-and-home games in the same week for a total of 14 league games.

“The Sagamore is going to be strong this year,” says O’Neil. “It’s the most competitive top to bottom in the five years I’ve been around it.”

Danville has never won the Sagamore in baseball since joining in 2000. The Warriors were Mid-State Conference champions in 1946, 1951 and 1967 and West Central Conference champions in 1988, 1989, 1994 and 1998.

The Warriors’ 2018 non-conference slate includes Beech Grove, Cascade, Covenant Christian, Lafayette Central Catholic, Monrovia, Northview, Owen Valley, Plainfield, Speedway plus the Hendricks County Tournament (Avon, Brownsburg, Cascade, Plainfield and Tri-West Hendricks are in that).

Hendricks County Tournament titles came Danville’s way in 1989, 1991 and 1994.

Danville will again host the sectional. But the tournament field and the playing surface will have a new look. Because of success factor or shuffling, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (2A state runner-up in 2017), Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks have moved in to join Danville, Greencastle and Indianapolis Northwest.

With support of superintendent Dr. Tracey Shafer, principal Dr. P.J. Hamann, athletic director Jon Regashus (who was an O’Neil assistant at Brownsburg) and others, there have been several athletic upgrades on campus. On the way for the baseball field are many new items — a turf infield, drainage and sprinkling system for the outfield, fencing and bleaches. The dugouts and press box are to be renovated with a locker room added upstairs in the press box building.

The community’s youngest players play recreation and travel baseball. Danville Community Middle School’s seventh/eighth grade team is to play about 20 games in the spring.

“We want them to play as much as they can and get as much experience as possible,” says O’Neil.

Before O’Neil went to Brownsburg (he has been a health teacher at the school since 2000-01), he was a Midwest scout for the Tampa Bay Rays. At Fountain Central, he was also head football coach for five seasons (1990-94).

In seven seasons at LaPorte with Schreiber, he became very close with the Hall of Famer and learned much about developing pitchers.

“You don’t start in March,” says O’Neil. “You have to build up strength so they can throw 110 pitches and feel strong.”

By state tournament time, O’Neil wants to have a well-establish No. 1 and No. 2 starter but depth is also important.

“We want to develop another four or five guys who can come in and throw strikes and feel confident,” says O’Neil, who saw four Danville pitchers — Weston, Shafer, Morrell, and MacGregor — go down with non-baseball injuries in the last month of the 2017 regular season and had younger players step in to pick up the slack.

Before coaching at LaPorte, Pat spent two season on brother Chip’s staff at South Bend St. Joseph.

The younger O’Neil played two seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan College after two at Vincennes University. He earned an undergraduate degree from KWC in 1980 and a master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend in 1990.

Married nearly eight years to Carol, Pat has two daughters. Oldest daughter Maureen and husband Matt Hoard have two boys — Clark (8) and A.J. (5). Youngest Katie and spouse Brandon Jewell have pets. Stepson Michael is a recent Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology graduate. Stepdaughter Jennifer is a nursing student at the University of Indianapolis.

PATO'NEIL

Pat O’Neil enters his second season as head  baseball coach at Danville Community High School in 2018. He coached five seasons at Fountain Central and 10 at Brownsburg, earning state runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004 and a state championship in 2005.

 

Bedford North Lawrence coach Callahan wants his Stars to know their roles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An athlete knowing and accepting their place can go a long way toward the success of a team.

Bedford North Lawrence High School head baseball coach Jeff Callahan firmly embraces this philosophy and passes it along to his Stars.

“We are working with athletes to understand their role,” says Callahan, who is in his 15th years as BNL athletic director and entering his fifth season in the baseball coaching role. “Everyone wants to start, play shortstop and bat third. We can’t have that to have the best team possible.”

Callahan talks with players about team expectations.

“We’re putting the team first and individual accolades second,” says Callahan, who coached the Stars to an IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship in 2017 — the first for the program since 1994.

As baseball coach, Callahan meets with his parents to talk about team rules and player roles.

As AD, he encourages the other coaches in the BNL athletic department to do the same.

“It’s never going to eliminate all issues or possible conflicts,” says Callahan. “As parents, we all want what’s best for our kids.”

He also wants those youngsters to know that things won’t always go the way they want and that it is helpful to know how to accept and adjust during times of adversity.

“There are a lot of life lessons can be taught to kids in high school athletics,” says Callahan.

As a shortstop and pitcher playing for BNL 1984-87, Callahan learned the importance of fundamentals from Stars head coach Mike Short.

“He was very detail-oriented,” says Callahan. “We worked a lot on the defensive side and on situations. It helps knowing the game of baseball inside and out as a player.

“Pitching and defense is where you’re going to win games and win championships.”

Coach Callahan spends time at every practice on bunt coverages and all kinds of other possibilities. It’s hoped that this repetition will trigger muscle memory during games.

The 2017 Stars said goodbye to 11 seniors, including eight starters.

Two varsity pitching innings return this spring.

“We have a lot of kids battling for positions,” says Callahan. “Early in the season, we may have several different lineups looking for the right combination of players.”

Callahan tends to keep 35 to 40 players in the program. With all the seniors leaving, he says there may be days he has 18 players with the varsity. There are likely to be around a dozen with the junior varsity 10 to 12 freshmen.

While he is still looking to hire a freshmen coach, Duane Higgs and Reggie Joslin are varsity assistants and Dennis Kissinger will coach the JV for BNL in 2018.

Moving on to college baseball from the Class of 2017 were the coach’s oldest child Brandt Callahan (Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.) plus Drew Hensley (Indiana University Southeast), Austin Long (Indiana University), Tanner McBride (Indiana University Kokomo), Brody Tanksley (Indiana University Southeast) and Michael Underwood (Marian University).

“If a kid wants to go play (college baseball), we give them an idea of what it takes and what it’s like to be recruited,” says Callahan. “We help them make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row. We make them understand that school is more important that the baseball program.”

There’s also things to consider like cost, distance from home and overall fit with the school’s culture.

“A lot of factors go into it,” says Callahan.

Other recent BNL graduates to head for collegiate diamonds include Caleb Bowman (Taylor University), Dillon Hensley (Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill.), Kyler Sherrill (Blackburn College) and Tanner Tow (Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky).

BNL plays in the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated, New Albany and Seymour). Because the HHC is spread out, all teams do not meet during the regular season. There is a conference tournament, slated for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, May 7, 9 and 11. All teams plays three games to determined places 1 through 8.

BNL’s fourth annual Orval Huffman Invitational is scheduled for May 19. Besides the host Stars, the four-team event named in honor of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and former BNL coach Orval Huffman will feature Northview, Silver Creek and Speedway.

A year ago, Huffman and members of the Stars’ 1977 State Finals team addressed the current BNL squad.

The rotating sectional is scheduled to move from Bedford in 2017 to Jeffersonville in 2018. Besides BNL and Jeffersonville, the field is to include Floyd Central, Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour.

Callahan played baseball for two seasons at Vanderbilt University. Roy Mewbourne was the Commodores head coach. The VU coach who recruited Jeff Callahan — Gary Burns — is now leading Brandt Callahan as Rockhurst head coach.

Rockhurst is an NCAA Division II school and member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

During Jeff Callahan’s time at Vandy, the Southeastern Conference featured stars like Frank Thomas at Auburn University and Ben McDonald at Louisiana State University. Vanderbilt was not yet the powerhouse it has become in recent years with Tim Corbin as head coach.

Callahan graduated from the Nashville-based school in 1991 with a double major in human resources and secondary education.

After college, Callahan taught and was assistant baseball and football coach at Norcross High School in Gwinett County, Ga. His wife, Paige, grew up in Atlanta. The couple met at Vanderbilt.

Moving back to Bedford, Callahan became a U.S. History teacher and assistant in football, basketball and baseball. For a few seasons, he was the Stars head football coach.

Besides Brandt, Jeff and Paige have a freshman son Whitt and eight-grade daughter Merritt.

Bedford North Lawrence became a school in 1974, a consolidation of Bedford, Fayetteville, Heltonville, Needmore, Oolitic, Shawswick and Tunnelton.

Many Indiana basketball fans know BNL’s Damon Bailey is from Heltonville. He played baseball for the Stars as a freshman. That was Jeff Callahan’s senior season.

MERRITTJEFFBRANDTPAIGEWHITTCALLAHAN

Celebrating a 2017 IHSAA Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional baseball championship for the host school are the Callahan family (from left): Merritt, Jeff, Brandt, Paige and Whittt. Jeff, who is married to Paige, enters his fifth season as the BNL Stars head coach in 2018. Brandt is now in college. Whitt is freshman. Merritt is an eighth grader.

Kruszka brings passion to South Central Satellites

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some say that baseball is just a game.

Ryan Kruszka has a different take.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farley taught the mental side of the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2017 season brought with it new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RYANKRUSZKA

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

Hall of Famer Gandolph back at home at Scecina with high hopes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis has won six IHSAA football sectional titles since the Crusaders last won a sectional baseball championship.

The Crusaders reigned on the gridiron in 2001 in Class 2A, 2002 in 2A, 2012 in 1A and 2015 in 2A. Scecina last hoisted a sectional trophy on the diamond in 1992.

Dave Gandolph, a football, wrestling and baseball standout for the Crusaders in the 1960’s, would like to give that ’92 trophy some company in the case.

“We are kind of on the verge,” says Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who became head baseball coach at his alma mater prior to the 2014 season after 33 years leading Center Grove in Greenwood and two guiding Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter (with an assistant stint at Carmel in-between). He has a varsity record of 766-352-4 in 39 total seasons. “We’ve lost twice in the sectional by one run.”

Scecina bowed out of the tournament by losing 2-1 to Heritage Christian in the 2014 Heritage Christian Sectional final, 12-9 to Park Tudor in the 2015 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals, 8-7 to Ritter in the 2016 Speedway Sectional semifinals, 11-5 to eventual 2A state champion Ritter in the 2017 Park Tudor Sectional semifinals.

The Crusaders compete in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (along with Ritter, Park Tudor, Beech Grove, Indianapolis Lutheran, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central) and then there’s the Indianapolis city tournament.

Athletic director and former Crusaders head baseball coach Jason Kehrer and Gandolph craft Scecina’s non-conference slate.

“We play a pretty tough schedule,” says Gandolph.

To get ready for the postseason, Scecina has faced a buzzsaw of a regular season. The 2017 campaign, which carried the team-picked motto “Trust the Process,” opened with losses to traditional powers Indianapolis Cathedral (4A), Indianapolis Bishop Chatard (3A), Guerin Catholic (3A), Lafayette Central Catholic (2A) and Evansville Memorial (3A). Cathedral went on to win that program’s third state championship and seven-time state champion Lafayette Central Catholic was a regional finalist.

Gandolph has enjoyed plenty of success in his career by stressing the importance of hitters putting the ball in play and since he does not have many players who promise to mash the baseball out of Neidlinger Field or other parks, that is still his approach.

“I teach a lot about ‘small ball’ and moving runners over,” says Gandolph. “(The opposing defenders) have to catch it, throw it and catch it again.

“But you have to have good pitching. That’s where it starts.”

The 2017 season was first for the IHSAA’s new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“The rule was put in because pitchers were getting used too much, but that was more in the summer and fall and all that,” says Gandolph. “High school coaches — for the most part — were not abusing anybody’s arms. This (new rule) creates a little more paperwork, basically.”

At state tournament time, coaching staffs must plan and strategize with the pitch count in mind.

“Everybody puts the best pitcher out there they can and go with them as long as they can,” says Gandolph. “You get a complete game or near-complete game and you’re in pretty good shape. If you get a big lead, you may want to get your (top) pitcher out of there.”

One change Gandolph would favor is seeding the sectionals.

“Seeding the sectional might alleviate some of that imbalance that might happen with a blind draw,” says Gandolph. “The city tournament is seeded and has 16 or 17 teams. We’re only talking about five, six or seven teams in the sectionals. In most cases, it’s fairly obvious (how to seed the field). You don’t want a championship game that is a blowout. That is not good for our game.

“The IHSAA has seeded wrestling for a long time and that’s a lot harder than seeding baseball teams.”

While most athletes play a fall sport, Gandolph has been working with about 10 who are not once a week this fall while sharing part of the baseball field with the Crusaders’ soccer programs. His assistants are Ted Clements, Tim Anderson, Pat Gedig and Jim Maslar. Clements and Gedig are Scecina graduates and Maslar teaches at the school. Anderson graduated from Lawrence North.

Gandolph, a 1968 Scecina graduate, was in football for coach Dave Oberting, wrestling for coach Jeff Lazo and baseball for coach Larry Neidlinger when Scecina had about 1,000 students, encourages multi-sport participation at a school of school that now has about 450.

“At smaller schools, you have to share athletes,” says Gandolph. “Otherwise, you won’t be able to compete.

“I was in football, wrestling and baseball both at Scecina and Saint Joseph’s College (in Rensselaer). I’m a firm believer in a multi-sport athlete.

“For those who specialize, there are limits what they might be able to do in some other sport. They might get get burned out mentally and it’s good to use other muscles. It keeps you more balanced.”

Participating in wrestling kept Randolph in shape for baseball and football, where he was invited to training camp at SJC with the Abe Gibron-coached Chicago Bears in 1973. He played many years of minor league football around Indianapolis and was an assistant at Center Grove for two decades, retiring after a Class 5A state runner-up finish in 2000.

Gandolph notes that his top Scecina pitcher — 6-foot-3 junior right-hander Mac Ayres — is also the starting quarterback for the Crusaders’ 7-1 football team. To keep his pitching arm in shape, Ayres gets in workouts on Sundays.

A teacher for 40 years, Gandolph retired from the classroom Jan. 1, 2014. But he welcomed the opportunity to come back to the east side of town where so many memories were made and so many friends still live and keep coaching baseball.

“I’m glad I went back to Scecina,” says Gandolph. “It’s like going back home. There are still a lot of people around from my era. It’s where I met my wife (Ann). At the time, my mom (Pat and brother Ron) were were practically living across the street in the house where I grew up.”

Dave, the oldest of Eugene and Pat Gandolph’s seven children, lost Ron in November 2016 then his mother, Pat, in December.

“It was a tough winter and spring,” says Gandolph.

Dave and Ann Gandolph still reside near Center Grove. Their four children — Dave Jr. (47), Dan (42), Tom (40) and Jennifer (34) — and eight grandchildren are all on the south side.

Dave Jr. averaged more than two strikeouts per inning during his Center Grove career, which concluded in 1988.

“Those were some boring games,” says his father.

After playing at Indiana University, 6-foot-4 left-handed Dave Jr. was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 26th round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and logged five minor league seasons. He is one of seven draft picks developed by Dave Gandolph Sr.

Among the others is 1996 Mr. Indiana Baseball A.J. Zapp, who hit .524 with 16 home runs and 50 runs batted in and was taken in the first round of that year’s MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves and got as far as Triple-A.

Dan Gandolph played football and Tom Gandolph baseball at SJC. Dave Jr. and Dan are now in financial services and Tom is an Indianapolis firefighter.

Jennifer Gandolph was a senior member of Center Grove’s 2000 4A state championship team which featured her mother as an assistant coach and went on to play volleyball at the University of Michigan. Now known as Jennifer Hawk, she is now head volleyball coach at Perry Meridian High School and manages Orangtheory Fitness, owned by retired WNBA All-Star Katie Douglas, in Greenwood.

Dave and Ann Gandolph (she is an IU graduate but “Puma at Heart”) have remained close with St. Joe alumni even through the closing of the school at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

Embracing the idea of #PumasForever, the couple attended an off-campus homecoming event a few weeks ago.

“It’s such a strong bond that everybody has,” says Gandolph, who is hopeful SJC will be able to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. “It’s a big part of our lives.”

More than 80 players have gone on to college baseball during Gandolph’s coaching career, including Scecina graduates Bradley Meade at Anderson University, Aaron Leming at Franklin College, Genero Angeles at the University of Saint Francis.

“We have had a lot of football players go on to college from Scecina,” says Randolph. “We are trying to make them think about playing baseball in college.”

Catholic grade schools that feed into the school have not had baseball programs in recent years. Many players come through Irvington Sports Association and various travel ball organizations.

DAVEGANDOLPH

Dave Gandolph, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, is heading into his fifth season at Indianapolis Scecina Memorial — his alma mater — in 2017-18. It will be his 40th overall as a high school head coach, including two seasons at Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter and 33 at Center Grove.

Alter has 1A Indianapolis Lutheran hanging with the big schools

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dick Alter has coached baseball in central Indiana for nearly four decades.

He has been around some talented players and coaches and helped mold young minds in dugouts and classrooms.

Since 2005, the former North Central player and assistant coach and former Manual head coach has made an impact at Indianapolis Lutheran High School, an IHSAA Class 1A member on the city’s southeast side.

The Saints won the eighth sectional title during Alter’s tenure and extended their streak of sectional championships to six in 2017. Lutheran went on to take the first regional crown in program history.

After beating Bethesda Christian 16-0 and University 5-1 to win the Sheridan Sectional, the Saints topped Edinburgh 10-1 and Rising Sun 6-1 in the Morristown Regional before losing 6-2 to eventual 1A state champion Lanesville in the Jasper Semistate.

What propelled Lutheran in ’17?

“Chemistry,” says Alter, who is also chairman of the school’s social studies department. “It was certainly not the best team we’ve ever had here. But those boys put it together better than the other teams did when it counted. We had unified players that played together and wanted to win.”

There are not that many 1A schools in the Indianapolis area. The smallest school in the Indiana Crossroads Conference (which also includes Beech Grove, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Indianapolis Scecina, Indianapolis Park Tudor, Monrovia, Speedway and Triton Central), Lutheran benefits from its strong regular-season schedule come postseason time.

ICC games are played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and there’s the test of the Marion County Tournament.

Ritter won the 2017 Class 2A state title. The Saints also squared off with 4A’s Lafayette Jeff and Perry Meridian (three times) and 1A powerhouse Hauser. In recent seasons, 4A’s Columbus North and 3A’s Bishop Chatard and Guerin Catholic have been on the slate.

“We play a very competitive schedule,” says Alter. “We go out of our way to play good schools. We don’t have the depth these 4A schools have, but on any given day we can play with them.”

Sophomores Matthew Alter (Dick and Karen Alter’s only child) and Noah Wood and freshman Bradbury Aiden — all right-handers — did the bulk of the mound work for last season’s Saints. It was the first campaign of the IHSAA’s 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).

The coach is not a fan of the new rule.

“It severely limits a 1A program,” says Alter. “We really have to plan and be judicious with our pitchers. I like the old rule — 10 innings every three days. That made a lot of sense to me. It worked for me. If you are an experienced coach, you’re not going to hurt your kids’ arms by overthrowing them.”

Alter has heard the response of those like him who oppose the new rule.

“You can say ‘go develop more pitchers.’ But that’s easier said than done,” says Alter, who notes that many schools have players who grew learning to be pitchers. “We’re developing kids who can throw and hopefully they throw strikes. I understand the concept, but in practicality you’re not going to get a lot of good pitchers out of it.”

The Saints play games on their Arlington Avenue campus. Land-locked in a residential area, the field has relatively short dimensions.

“There’s one house we regularly hit in left field,” says Alter. “Any home run to the right side is going into somebody’s yard.”

Since Alter’s arrival, the field located in a residential area has received upgrades like a new backstop and dugouts and netting instead of a fence. Windscreens have been added and the home plate area and mound have been re-done.

Alter graduated from North Central in 1973. His coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tom Bradley, who was the original host of the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. Alter played one year on baseball scholarship to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., Alter transferred to Indiana University, earned a degree and began his professional life in marketing research.

In 1979, he began running the summer baseball program at North Central and later served as an assistant to Bradley.

He decided to change his profession to teacher and wound up coaching baseball and basketball at Manual. For a short time, he was head coach for both sports.

Alter led the Redskins on the diamond 1994-2004 then went to Lutheran when Matthew was 5.

Nephew Jared Broughton was a freshman on the 2005 Lutheran team. He went on to be a Junior College All-American at Vincennes University, a starter at the University of Dayton and is now associate head coach at Piedmont College, an NCAA Division III school in Demorest, Ga.

Alter coached Caleb Hougesen, a third baseman who was selected in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a great player,” says Alter.

What feeds the Saints program?

The high school typically gets most of its students from four Lutheran K-8 schools on the southeast side of Indy. Almost all of the Saints have a travel baseball background.

As Lutheran plans for 2018, Tom Riensche (former Warren Central head coach) and Ryan Baglow are back as varsity assistants. Zach Akers has been a junior varsity coach.

The Saints normally have a JV team, but low numbers in some years and one available diamond mean they only field a varsity squad.

DICKALTER2

A veteran of nearly 40 years as a high school baseball coach, Dick Alter has been head coach at Indianapolis Lutheran since 2005. The Saints won their sixth straight sectional and advanced all the way to the semistate in 2017. (Indianapolis Lutheran Photo)

 

Turnock wants his Marian Knights to push themselves as far as they can

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When baseball players are pushed past the comfort zone, that’s when progress is made.

That’s the way Joe Turnock, sixth-year head coach at Marian High School in Mishawaka, goes about his job of developing young athletes.

“It’s about developing and being pushed beyond his experience,” says Turnock. “We want to stretch them, challenge them.

“I don’t care what year you graduate If you can play and have the mental maturity.”

That may mean a freshman standing in against a gas-throwing senior. But if they can handle it, their age and grade is not factored in.

Turnock, a graduate of Marian (1982) and Indiana University (1986), knows that being mentally strong is important in a game not always filled with moments of success.

“Baseball resembles life,” says Turnock. “There’s a lot of failure in the game. What do you do to respond after something negative happens — something that might not be within your control?

“The most important muscle is between the ears. It’s your mental make-up.”

Learning to cope in these situations while in high school will help in the future.

“Not everything works according to plan,” says Turnock. “You’ve got to able to bounce back.

“Control what you can control and compete.”

Even in games that may have resulted in losses, the positives are added up.

“Did you scrap back and win the last few innings?,” says Turnock. “There are things you can build on in your next game or practice.”

Turnock joined a Marian coaching staff led by Tim Prister after spending time in the showcase/travel baseball world. Turnock was a coach with the Michiana Scrappers and continues to be affiliated with the Crossroads Baseball Series.

Youngest son Josh (Joe and Amy Turnock also have 24-year-old Joe) was a catcher for the Scrappers and a battery mate of Evan Miller.

Now 22, Josh Turnock was a freshman on Marian’s IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up team in 2011.

The young Turnock and Miller went on to play for the North in the 2014 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All/Star Series.

While Josh Turnock is at Eastern Illinois University, LaPorte graduate Miller is now pitching in the San Diego Padres organization.

At EIU, Josh got to catch Michael McCormick. The right-hander who played at Speedway High School for father Marcus McCormick is now in the Chicago White Sox system.

Riley Tirotta, a 2017 Marian graduate, was a standout at shortstop and also played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series before heading to the University of Dayton.

Turnock has helped Tirotta, who has trained with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and others get the attention of college coaches.

“A lot of the recruiting process had changed,” says Turnock. “You have to proactive and market yourself.”

Some of the recruiting tools including sending out videos and attending the showcases appropriate for the player.

For instance, a player suited for the NAIA or NCAA Division III will not be best-served at a showcase with mostly D-I coaches.

“There’s enough college baseball out there,” says Turnock. “Find where you’re going to fit. It’s not the glamor and glitz that people think it is. There’s a lot of work.”

With Tirotta’s athleticism, his coach was able to use him at various places in the infield and on the mound.

When Turnock had exit interviews with his players at the season of the ’17 season, he advised the returnees to work on versatility.

“If your name is on the lineup card, that’s a good day,” says Turnock. Players should not be concerned about where they are on the field or in the batting order. Just compete and contribute.

Roles can change. It happens at the high school level and it happens in the big leagues.

Take Chicago Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery as an example.

“He might start then be used in middle relief then close then start again,” says Turnock.

Marian is a Roman Catholic secondary school, operated by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and is a college preparatory institution.

The Knights are also in Class 3A-sized school.

“We have to share athletes,” says Turnock. “We know that not all players will make it to open gyms (or fields) when they are in-season (with another sport). But I want a kid who had to stand on the foul line and had to knock down two free throws with no time on the clock.

“Kids know who should be taking those shots or who should be at the plate in a key situation. Most kids’ self-awareness is a lot higher than people give them credit for.”

Turnock believes everyone should take part in a team sport — something that prepares them for the work world. There is teamwork and the discovery that sometimes not everyone pulls their weight.

As Marian looks toward the 2018 season, Keith Schreiber and Ryan Dainty are returnees to Turnock’s coaching staff.

“(Schreiber) is a phenomenal addition,” says Turnock of the former Glen Oaks Community College head coach and youngest son of the late Ken Schreiber. A 13-time Hall of Famer who won 1,010 games and seven state titles at LaPorte, Ken died Sept. 8 at age 83.

Dainty, Dean of Student Formation at Marian, is the head junior varsity coach.

Turnock tends to carry a large number of JV players in order to give them opportunities and a chance to get better so they can help at the varsity level.

“You never know how kids are going to develop,” says Turnock.

Walter Lehmann, a Marian graduate who was on Turnock’s staff, has become head coach at Concord High School.

Turnock says he is looking to add to his staff.

“We look at the coaches the same as the players,” says Turnock. “I don’t have an ego. The goal is to be successful as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit for it.”

The Knights play in the Northern Indiana Conference. In 2017, the NIC produced a 3A state champion (South Bend St. Joseph) and 4A state runner-up (Penn).

“I’ve got a lot of respect for both of those guys,” says Turnock of St. Joe coach John Gumpf and Penn coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s a strong conference from top to bottom. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

The NIC has 13 teams (Marian, Penn, St. Joseph, Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, New Prairie, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington) and is broken into divisions.

Marian plays home-and-home games with NIC teams St. Joseph, Mishawaka and Elkhart Central and a round robin with traditionally-strong programs Fort Wayne Carroll and Northridge.

“We want to have to grind through the season,” says Turnock. “When we get into the sectional, it’s not something we haven’t seen before.”

JOETURNOCK

Joe Turnock. a 1982 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, is in his sixth season as Knights head baseball coach in 2017-18. (Steve Krah Photo)