Tag Archives: State champions

McIntyre expects his McCutcheon Mavericks to play with confidence

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tristan McIntyre was proud to be associated with McCutcheon High School baseball even before he pulled on a Mavericks uniform.

That emotion continued as McIntyre played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton and helped the West Lafayette-based Mavs win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in his senior year of 2003.

“He had pride in the program and invested a lot of time and energy in making this one of the better programs in the state,” says McIntyre of Burton. “That has resonated down through everyone who has come through and played for him.”

As a youngster, Tristan attended McCutcheon baseball camps. Older cousins Jake McIntyre (Class of 1996) and Nick McIntyre (Class of 1999) played for the Mavs. McCutcheon was a state runner-up in 1994 and state champion in 1999.

Tristan grew up as the only child of Roger and Shirley McIntyre (now deceased) in Stockwell, Ind., which is about 10 miles southeast of McCutcheon, and got his diamond start in the PONY Baseball (which is now Shetland for 6U, Pinto for 8U, Mustang for 10U, Bronco for 12U, Pony for 14U, Colt for 16U, Palomino for 18U and Thorobred 23U). Gary Christopher was the coach.

As he progressed, the young McIntyre played for teams based at James E. Cole Elementary, Lauramie Township and then Wainwright Middle School.

In high school, McIntyre played in the Colt World Series in Lafayette. After that came Lafayette American Legion Post 11, coached by Jim Watson and Dan Yeoman.

McIntyre played three seasons for the Boilermakers (2005, 2006 and 2008). He redshirted his freshman year (2004) and because of injury missed another season (2007).

The 2008 Boilers went 21-10 in Big Ten Conference play and featured future big leaguer and current Korea Baseball Organization star Josh Lindblom as the closer.

McIntyre remembers Lindblom hitting 100 mph on the radar gun at Northwestern, the only time he’s been around someone who hit triple digits.

“We knew that if we could get the ball to him with the lead it was pretty much ‘game over,’” says McIntyre of Lindblom, a graduate of Harrison High School in Lafayette. “His stuff was just so electric.

“(New Haven High School graduate) Matt Bischoff was a starting pitcher that had really good command and could go out there and give us seven or eight innings every start (in 2008).

“We had a lefty out of the bullpen — (Hammond Bishop Noll Institute grad) Andy Loomis — who was lights out that year as well.”

McIntyre was an assistant coach at Bluffton (Ohio) University for two seasons (2009 and 2010) and on the Purdue coaching staff for six seasons (2011-16).

That means the McIntyre both played for Doug Schreiber at Purdue and coached with him at both Purdue and McCutcheon. T-Mac was a part of the Mav coaching staff the past two seasons under Schreiber.

“It’s his knowledge of the game,” says McIntyre of one attribute he appreciates about Schreiber. “He’s been in so many good experiences throughput his career. I just try to be a sponge and soak that in.

“And he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around. As a player and a coach, it inspired you to want to work hard and compete and find ways to get guys better and find a way to win.”

With Schreiber leaving to become head baseball coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, McIntyre was recently named head coach of the Mavs and has been reinforcing the culture during fall limited contact workouts.

“We want to take a lot of pride in the opportunity represent McCutcheon and coming out here with a purpose everyday,” says McIntyre. “Ultimately, we want to be able to play the game with confidence and break the game down to a series of one-pitch-at-a-time.

“If we do that over and over again, I think we’ll find ourselves in a lot of ball games with a chance to win.”

McIntyre, 34, takes over a program that went 22-6 and played in the 4A Lafayette Jeff Sectional championship game in 2019.

The coach sees the best chance to keep having success is by limiting the extra outs and offensive opportunities for opponents.

“Stylistically, we want to take care of the baseball whether that’s on the mound or defensively,” says McIntyre, who counts Brandon Fulk, Ryan Wides, Dustin Anthrop and Jake McIntyre among his assistants with the hopes of filling a couple more slots with Schreiber and (Crawfordsville High School head football coach) Kurt Schlicher moving on.

Fulk leads the JV team and is assisted by Anthrop, who is president of McCutcheon Youth Baseball League with Fulk as vice president. Wides works with catchers and outfielders. Jake McIntyre is a McCutcheon social studies teacher.

Nick McIntyre, who is now an assistant at the University of Toledo, was a role model for a young Tristan.

“(Nick) was someone I always looked up to. No. 1, he was talented. No. 2, he was always a competitive guy,” says McIntyre. “As a kid it was fun to be around him. He’s a high energy guy and obviously knows the game.”

As coaches, Tristan and Nick have been able to bounce ideas off one another. While Tristan was a hitter and a pitcher in high school, he has moved toward the pitching side of things while Nick’s focus has been offense.

“He knows the mindset of the hitter and he’s always been very open as far as giving me tips and things along those lines,” says Tristan.

Away from baseball, Tristan and wife Andrea are the parents of daughter Clara (4). His day job is finance and operations manager at Gutwein Law in Lafayette.

“To be able to do this in general it takes the support of a lot of people,” says McIntyre. “First and foremost is my wife. She has to be very understanding and patient. Having her on-board is tremendous.

“(Gutwein) has been very gracious to me and flexible with my schedule.”

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Tristan McIntyre, a 2003 McCutcheon High School graduate and a Mavericks assistant for the past two seasons, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He also played and coached at Purdue University and coached at Bluffton (Ohio) University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Jasper (Ind.) Reds making a stamp on baseball since 1893

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a big deal in Jasper, Ind.

The Dubois County seat is home to the Jasper High School Wildcats — five-time IHSAA state champions, four-time state runners-up and 16-time state finalists.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame is housed at Vincennes University-Jasper.

But long before these happenings, the Jasper Reds were on the diamond scene.

Established as the Jasper Acmes in 1893 and soon changed to the Red Jackets (then Reds) to match the colors of early uniforms, the Reds have been a baseball presence in Jasper ever since. The only interruptions were in 1918, 1922 and 1964-66.

In the early days, players would share in the team’s profits — if there were any — so the team was referred to as semi-pro. That label stuck even after the pay stopped.

There’s no age limit for players. For years, most were in their 20’s and 30’s. This year, there were two 30-somethings among mostly college-age athletes.

The 2019 Reds went 13-0 during the regular season then lost twice at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Some of the top players this summer were pitcher Bo Daves, second baseman Austin Simmers and shortstop Josh Weidenbenner.

It was the Reds’ seventh NBC World Series appearance with 1993, 1994, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 being the other years.

The 2018 Reds went to Louisville to play in the Bluegrass World Series, an event that features former major leaguers.

After Jasper High is done for the season, the Reds play home games at Alvin C. Ruxer Field (formerly Recreation Field).

“They are good to us,” says business manager Bob Alles, noting that Jasper High head coach Terry Gobert mowed the grass on a Sunday so it would be ready for the Reds. “We get (cooling) fans in the dugouts. They bend over backward to help us.

“So many people are good to us. People in Jasper want to keep this team going. We go from one year to the next.”

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Ruxer once pitched for the Reds and was a big baseball backer. He set up trust funds for the team that helped to defray season costs.

Dating back to 1903, the Reds have also played at South Side Park, Jasper Academy and Gutzweiler Park.

Bob Alles has been with the Reds for 47 years. The 1971 Jasper graduate (he played for Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Don Noblitt) who had one at-bat for the University of Evansville and became a coach (he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Ray Howard) and teacher as well as Reds manager from 1974-93 and 1996.

“I’ve poured my life into this thing,” says Bob Alles. “It takes in inordinate amount of time to get liability insurance, uniforms and equipment.

“It’s very, very time-consuming.”

A retired school teacher, Bob Alles recruits players and raises funds, trying to keep costs down for his athletes, especially the collegians with student loans.

“The easiest thing to get is the players,” says Bob Alles. “The other things are far more difficult.”

Like finding opponents. There are none in close proximity to Jasper.

“When teams come here it’s a free game for them (except gas money),” says Bob Alles. “We have a little money for umpires and a field.

“What I want from (opponents) is two games. We’ll play anybody. It’s very hard to get teams. That’s why we try to play a doubleheader.”

The weather was unkind to the Reds this season with seven rainouts.

“We try to play at least 20 games,” says Bob Alles. “We used to play 30 and 40. We can’t find that many any more.”

Bill Alles, brother of Bob, has served as Reds manager since 1999. Another brother, Tom Alles, is team historian. He wrote a 10-part series in 1993 as the team hit the 100-year mark.

Charlie “Kitty” Girard pitched for the Reds and a little with the 1910 Philadelphia Phillies.

Roman “Romie” Pfeffer was a star for the Reds in the ‘30s and ‘40s and was in the first class of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Romie and his two brothers — Revard aka “Riff” and Urban aka “Nigg” — were on the Jasper team that played in the Midwest Tournament at Terre Haute, where National/Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown was commissioner.

Bob Alles played three summers (1970-72) for Jasper American Legion Post 147 — two for “Nigg” Pfeffer (good friend of Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, who may have suited up for the Reds for one game in 1941) and one for Noblitt.

Van Lingle Mungo pitched a few games for Jasper during a diamond career that included time with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

Three Reds are in the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame — Bob Alles, Ruxer and Tim Barrett (who pitched in the big leagues with the 1988 Montreal Expos).

Bob, Bill and Tom’s father — Jerome “Chick” Alles — played for the Reds from 1950-63 and was a three-term mayor, concluding with 1991. All four men are in the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame along with several others with ties to Jasper.

Brenda Alles, Chick’s wife and the boys’ mother, has also provided support throughout the years.

“We just asked guys to play hard,” says Bob Alles. “If they hustle, I can live with losses. It’s an experience. We like a challenge. We love baseball.

“My brother (Bill) and I don’t get paid to do this. We give money to do this. I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had all these years. It’s all about relationships in life. How did you treat people?

“We try to treat them good.”

Since the centennial in 1993, the Jasper Reds have held a reunion. The next one is slated for April 25, 2020. Follow the Reds on Twitter at @JasperReds, Instagram at jasperredsbaseball and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jasper.reds.52.

 

 

 

JASPERREDSUNIFORMSThe Jasper (Ind.) Reds have been on the baseball scene since 1893 and have worn many styles of uniforms. Here are a few. (Jasper Reds Photo)

TOMALLESBILLALLESBOBALLESJASPERREDSThe Alles family has long represented the Jasper (Ind.) Reds baseball team. Here is Tom (left), Bill and Bob. (Jasper Reds Photo)

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Indiana Black Caps enter travel baseball world

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new travel baseball organization in northern Indiana.

The Indiana Black Caps was officially established July 7, 2019 and expects to field 11U, 12U and 13U teams for the 2020 season.

Jesse Zepeda, who played for coach Steve Stutsman on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions at Elkhart Central High School then for coach Seth Zartman at Bethel College (now Bethel University), has been with the Indiana Chargers travel organization and wants to bring that kind of focus on development and investment in players.

“We wanted something similar and thus the Black Caps came into motion,” says Zepeda. “We share the same values as the Chargers did and will continue to do so.

“My philosophy is simple: I hope to build a program that is known for tradition and will help develop the kids in to the best version of themselves on and off the field.”

Zepeda considers Chargers founder Joel Mishler and former Chargers assistant coach Wes Bogan among his mentors.

“I’ve only known Joel for about a year and half,” says Zepeda of Mishler. “The man has a great baseball mind and he has taught me a lot about the game in a short period of time of knowing him — things I wish I knew when I was a player.

“I helped him run Charger practices, camps, showcases and tryouts the past year.

“I look to him for advice and tips for coaching. He almost always will have a response to it.”

Zepeda credits Bogan for showing him how to manage the game.

“I learned a lot from him and still continuing to learn,” says Zepeda of Bogan. He has been a big contributor in my young coaching career.”

“I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had throughout the years. One thing that specifically comes to mind was, ‘Don’t think, just have fun’ that one coach told the team.

“This stuck through the hardships and struggles throughout my career.”

Zepeda and Bogan will lead the Black Caps along with Derek Coy and Brant Mast.

The organization plans to do off-season training at Elkhart Sports Center will play and practice around the Elkhart/Goshen area.

Zepeda says the Black Caps will likely play in USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), Game Day USA, BPA (Baseball Players Association) and Bullpen tournaments around Indiana. There will be approximately eight tournaments from mid-April to mid-July with built-in development weekends.

“In those weekends, we will solely-focus on the players’ development and play one game or a doubleheader against a team,” says Zepeda. “This gives us time to really focus on what we need to improve on.”

Why the Black Caps?

“Coming up with a name was probably one of the hardest parts for us. We kicked around many different names over the course of a couple weeks and the Black Caps just resonated with us,” says Zepeda. “We wanted to try and come up with something unique and that people would remember.”

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Jesse Zepeda, a graduate of Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College, has helped start a new travel baseball organization — the Indiana Black Caps. (Bethel College Photo)

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Jac-Cen-Del’s Bradshaw South head coach for IHSBCA all-star series

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Four decades ago, David Bradshaw received an invitation from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association to participate in the annual IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

As a left-handed pitcher at Jac-Cen-Del in Osgood, Ind., Bradshaw was selected in the 26th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Montreal Expos and signed before the series as did Evansville Memorial’s Don Mattingly and Rob Jackowiak of South Bend St. Joseph’s, Keith Call of Hammond Tech, Mike Jakubowicz of Hammond Clark and Bill Fink of Greenfield-Central.

Bradshaw went on to compete in the minors with the Expos in 1979 and Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1980.

Fast forward to 2019 and Bradshaw just completed his 35th season as head coach at his alma mater and will be head coach for the South in the 2019 all-star event June 21-23 in Madison and Hanover. Practice was Friday and games are slated Saturday and Sunday at Madison Consolidated’s Gary O’Neal Field.

Why does Bradshaw stay with the game?

“I just love the game,” says Bradshaw, who has won 499 games with seven invitational tournament, six conference, eight sectional, two regional and two Final Four appearances. “When I couldn’t play it anymore, I knew I wanted to become a teacher so I could coach. It’s been a really great ride over the last three and half decades.

“I’ve coached just about everything there is a coach at Jac-Cen-Del. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Bradshaw, who led the Eagles boys basketball program to an IHSAA Class 1A state championship in 2008-09 and was head coach as recently as 2012-13, teaches physical education and health.

He points to the lessons learned on and around the court and the diamond.

“You’re going to learn so many things from athletics,” says Bradshaw. “You’re going to learn not only how to work together. You’re going to learn how to be responsible. You’re going to have to learn to become determined and focused.

“I like to see the kids come out of our program with idea that it takes teamwork for anything to happen just like it does in life.

“You can have all kinds of determination on your own, but you need to have a support system, too.

“It takes a lot of hard work and determination to get somewhere in life.”

Jac-Cen-Del (enrollment around 300) is a member of the Ohio River Valley Conference (with Milan, Rising Sun, Shawe Memorial, South Ripley, Southwestern of Hanover and Switzerland County).

The ORV plays a double round robin to determine its champion.

In 2018-19, the Eagles were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Hauser, North Decatur, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun and South Decatur. Jac-Cen-Del has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2016.

The 2019 Eagles went 11-13.

“I started eight sophomores,” says Bradshaw. “I’m looking forward to the next couple years.”

Bradshaw will get to be around the all-stars for a couple days, but he has advice for them.

“I just want them to enjoy the moment,” says Bradshaw. “They must’ve done something right to get themselves here.

“They don’t bring people in that are not good people and good athletes. It’s a pleasure and an hour to be here.”

Bradshaw is proud of JCD’s home field, saying it is one of the finest in southeastern Indiana.

“We put a lot of time and effort into it,” says Bradshaw. “Everything was completely re-sodded on the inner portion of the diamond. Everything was re-done as far as the clay mixture and the meal mix.

“We put in a new backstop and new fencing in the last 10 years. For a 1A school, it’s a pretty nice field.

“(Batesville coach Justin) Tucker loves to come there and play.”

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David Bradshaw has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — Jac-Cen-Del High School — for 35 years. He has won 499 games. He is head coach of the South for the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series at Madison. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Veteran coach Rogers enjoys having a diamond to call his own with Leo Lions

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Rogers finally is in charge of a baseball facility where he gets first dibs.

In 32 seasons as head coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School, Rogers did not have an on-campus field and shared diamonds around the Summit City.

At various times, the Knights practiced at Tillman Park and played games at McMillen Park, Concordia Seminary and Indiana Tech.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store with my own field,” says Rogers, who is in his second season at Leo Junior/Senior High School in 2019.

Rogers landed at Leo as a guidance counselor when Harding High School closed as a high school, but continued to coach at Luers.

When Dave Boyce stepped away and left an opening at the top of the Lions program, Rogers took the opportunity to coach at the same place where he works during the day.

Having his own diamond is a big plus. Leo is the lone tenant at a field that has seen plenty of upgrades since Rogers took over.

“The kids have really worked hard on this field in the two years that I’ve been here,” says Rogers. “We’re still not done.”

Leo’s baseball field has two new hitting tunnels on the third base side with excess turf from the football field.

Last year, 80 tons of infield dirt material was brought in. The mound was re-built. Using 40 more tons of material, the warning track was extended around Thanksgiving time.

Also last fall, lips were cut out, new sod was planted and the home plate area was lifted.

“Your field is a reflection of your program,” says Rogers. “I’ve always felt that way.”

Rogers is a 1974 graduate of Merrillville (Ind.) High School and he saw how much tender loving care Pirates coach Bill Metcalf put into his field.

“He was always on the field doing something and we wondered what he was doing,” says Rogers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and National Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “Now, I understand that really well.”

He got a chance to plenty of work on the field at Indiana Tech for coaches Lance Hershberger, Steve Devine and Kip McWilliams.

With just one gym at Luers, the location of indoor workouts was not a certainty for Rogers and his teams. It may still get crowded, but there is a main gym and auxiliary available at Leo Junior/Senior, a part of East Allen County Schools.

Leo carries a brand resembling that of the “South Side Hitmen” era of Chicago baseball, a device devised by Boyce and kept by Rogers.

“I love that logo because I’m a White Sox guy,” says Rogers.

The coach considers himself to be “old school.”

“Everybody wears the uniform the same,” says Rogers. “We’re either all up (with the socks) or all down. We ask them to get haircuts. Those are my things.

“As for the baseball, we always work and always hustle. We want to be the first ones on the field and the first ones off the field. We want to get after every ball.

“I’m trying to teach the game the right way. I disagreed with Bryce Harper when he said there is no right way to play the game. I believe there is.”

One former player really took the Rogers’ insistence on hustle.

While he grew physically after high school and was very talented athletically, Kevin Kiemaier worked his way to the major leagues. He is now the starting center fielder for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rogers cherishes the memory of visiting Kiemaier while he was in rookie ball and him telling his former coach, “the rays like me because I’m a program guy. That serves me well.”

A three-sport athlete at Luers (football, basketball and baseball), Kiemaier demonstrated his athleticism while on the mound in the 2008 South Bend Semistate championship game against Boone Grove. A ball was smashed up the middle and Kiermaier stabbed it behind his back.

“He doesn’t make that play if he’s not an athlete,” says Rogers.

Winning pitcher Kiermaier led off and hurled the first five innings before going to shortstop as Luers beat Elwood 14-9 to win the IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2008. That capped a school year in which the Knights also took state crowns in football and basketball.

Besides the state championship, Rogers-coached Luers baseball squads won four sectionals, one regional and one semistate.

He was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2008 and has earned district COTY honors twice.

Very involved in the Fort Wayne diamond community, Rogers has been part of Wildcat Baseball League since former Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci asked him to help more than three decades ago. He started as director at Northwood Middle School, moved to St. Joe Little League then took on an administrative role.

Rogers is on the board for the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is an NEIBA Hall of Famer.

The 2019 NEIBA banquet is May 19. Mike Nutter, Mike Marchesano and Mike Frame are all to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. Spearheaded by Rogers and Carroll High School assistant Brett Windmiller, the organization will present at Northeast Indiana High School Player of the Year award.

Rogers played at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and graduated in 1978. He was a sophomore when Dave Goodmiller (now head coach at Norwell High School) was a senior. The two went on the play together in Fort Wayne’s Stan Musial League with Blackie’s Rib Corral and Mexican Joe’s. Rogers was the head coach for the North for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series at Notre Dame in 2008. Dave Goodmiller was an assistant and his son, Rhett Goodmiller, played in the game.

On April 23, 2019, Rogers earned career victory No. 500 against Norwell.

Rogers was an assistant to Don Hummel at New Haven and Larry Gerardo at Luers before taking over that program.

The 2018 Leo squad went 19-8. The 2019 team was 18-3 through May 13.

Alex Bireley, Christian Brubaker, Chase Chaney, Ryan Hackworth, Chance McMaken, Tyler Parker and A.J. Restivo are seniors on the current Leo squad. Hackworth has committed to play baseball at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.

Recent Leo graduates to move on to college ball are Easton Embry (Earlham College), Lukas Kline (Franklin College) and Max Minich (Kankakee Community College).

Rogers’ assistants are Brent Davis, Brian Turner and Jim Sickafoose with the varsity and Tom Miller and Mitch Meinholtz with the junior varsity. Davis is a New Haven graduate. Turner went to Fort Wayne Snider and played for Indiana Tech when Hershberger was a head coach and Rogers an assistant. Sickafoose is a former Central Noble head coach. There are 33 players in the program in 2019.

Leo (enrollment around 975) is a member of the Northeast Eight Conference (with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, East Noble, Huntington North, New Haven and Norwell).

The Lions are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, New Haven and Columbia City. Leo has earned eight sectional crowns — the last in 2012.

Besides various travel teams, Leo Grabill Little League serves as a feeder program for the Lions.

Gary and Jackie Rogers have three daughters — Melissa, Emily and Katie — and five grandchildren.

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Gary Rogers is in his second season as head coach at Leo Junior/Senior High School after 32 seasons at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers.

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)