Tag Archives: Travel Baseball

Indy Sharks founder Taulman emphasizes healthy mechanics, throwing strikes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.

For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.

From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.

A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.

“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.

“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”

In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.

Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.

The 17U Sharks will participate in top-notch recruiting events like the New Balance Program 15 in Cincinnati as well as the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Prospect League and Bullpen Tournaments Amateur Baseball Championships at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and the Perfect Game USA World Wood Bat Association National Championship in Marietta, Ga.

Taulman is a proponent of the Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch method and the coaching of Woolforth, Derek Johnson and Brent Strom.

In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.

“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.

“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.

“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”

Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”

Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.

He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.

“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”

Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.

“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”

Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.

Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.

“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.

Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.

“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.

“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”

Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.

Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.

“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.

“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”

When Taulman was an SJC senior, Rick O’Dette was a freshman. O’Dette went on to serve 17 years as Pumas head coach before the school was closed at the end of the 2017 season.

Lawrence North High School junior catcher/outfielder Jack Taulman, one of Jason’s sons, attended a showcase at Saint Leo (Fla.) University, where O’Dette is now the head coach.

After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.

In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.

Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.

To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.

He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.

In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.

Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.

After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.

After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.

He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).

When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.

“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.

JASONTAULMAN

Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

DAVESUTKOWSKI

Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Harber sees movement as key for baseball players

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Harber was a left-handed pitcher at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins system. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played five minor league seasons.
He has taken his experiences as an athlete, student and 17 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance (he works out of the Carmel location) to help athletes in many sports, including baseball.
Harber shared his knowledge on “Assessing the Overhead Athlete” at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.
The pyramid for “ideal athlete” development as Harber presents it has movement at the base with performance in the middle and skill at the top.
“Every athlete should have a wide range of movement,” says Harber.

Movement involves the ability to squat, lunge, bend, extend along with single-leg stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability and rotary stability.
“It’s everything Greg works on in his program,” says Harber. “It’s everything a strength coach works on.”
Performance includes speed, strength, power, agility, endurance, reactivity and quickness.
Skills are sport-specific, such as working on throwing mechanics or taking cuts off the tee.
“Where we get out-of-balance is when we focus too much on the skills and the performance and not enough on your fundamental movements,” says Harber.
“This movement becomes dysfunctional when you have poor range of motion, or a lack of stability.”
Harber says among his goals is to minimize injuries and maximize potential.
“You can’t make the team if you’re stuck in the training room,” says Harber. “You’re not going to help the team if you can’t stay healthy.
“Your durability is more important than your ability.”
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a difficult condition.
“Everything you do in life is managing risk,” says Harber. “You guys took a risk, getting out of the house, getting in your car and coming over here. You could have got into an accident.
“What did you do to minimize that risk? You put your seat belt on.”
Harber says the system as it currently stands does not work in players’ favor.
At 43, Harber came up before travel baseball became what it is today.
There was some American Legion and Connie Mack ball in the summer.
“You guys play 50, 60, 70 games a year right now just in travel ball,” says Harber. “On top of that comes your high school season. Then you may take three weeks off in August right around tryouts for the next travel ball season then you go play fall ball.
“It’s too much. Your bodies can’t handle that at this age.”
Harber says most pain — outside of direct blows or trauma — will seem
to appear suddenly.
“In fact, it’s been building up for years,” says Harber. “Your body is able to compensate and adapt.
“The day that your pain shows up is simply the day that your compensation ran out. Try to start thinking of pain as a request for change. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
Harber presented findings from the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
If a pitcher pitches while fatigued, there’s a 36 times increased risk of injury.
• Pitchers lose 6-18 percent of rotator cuff strength after one game.
“Recovery is important,” says Harber.
• Pitchers lose 3-4 percent of rotator cuff strength over the course of one season.
• Throwing more than 75 pitches in a game yielded a 2.5 times greater chance of shoulder pain.
What is the cumulative effect (according to the AJSM)?:
• Pitching for greater than eight months out of the year results in
five times as many injuries.
• Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in three times as many injuries.
• Pitching showcases and travel leagues significantly contributed to increased injuries.
• Throwing more than 600 pitches per season yielded a 3.5 times greater chance for elbow pain.
In addressing performance, Harber notes the following:
• The peak age for a baseball player is 27.
“It’s not 18 or 21,” says Harber. “It takes time to develop these players.”
• Typical MLB pitcher is 6-5, 250 pounds.
• Starters 200-plus innings per year.
• Starters throw 3,500 pitches.
• There make 30-35 starts.
• They throw 35 bullpens.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says Harber. “Every pitcher has been hurt, is hurt, will be hurt at some point in their career.
“To be able to withstand that, you have to train. You have to manage that fatigue. You have to recover. All that stuff’s important.”
Harber also talked about the importance the Central Nervous System plays in the whole equation.
“Central Nervous System is king,” says Harber. “It controls everything.
“Without proper motor control, your nervous system doesn’t feel safe.
If it detects a threat it will not give you freedom of movement. It will not let you put force through a joint.”
CNS grants strength and mobility.
“Potential strength is always there, but the brain won’t give it to you if it feels vulnerable,” says Harber. “The brain is always asking itself, ‘Is giving you more strength right now a good idea?’ If the
answer is no, you aren’t getting it no matter how much you want it.
“Your nervous system will only let you go as fast, hard and heavy as it knows you can slow.”
Harber says there is no such medical definition for a “dead arm.”
“It’s the nervous system,” says Harber. “Your brain detects an instability somewhere and it’s not going to let you put force through that.”
Addressing mobility (the ability to move or be moved freely and easily) and stability (the resistance to movement) can help diagnose many issues.
With poor scapular stability, the body locks down the thoracic spine and should range of movement.
When there’s poor core stability, the body locks down the SI joint to find stability/strength.
If there’s poor mid-foot stability, the body collapses the arch and up the joint to create a rigid structure to push off of.
“You were born with all the mobility in the world,” says Harber. “You earn stability and we mess it up along the way due to poor posture, past injuries and faulty movement patterns.
“I’ve got a 7-month old baby at home. He’s like Gumby. I can bend him, and he won’t break. He’s trying to figure it out developmentally.
“I can stand him up and he becomes a Starfish. He locks out his legs and
his shoulder blades. That’s his body trying to create artificial stability.”
During a five-year period of working with youth players while in Atlanta, Harber collected data and found a number of players with shoulder mobility asymmetries with at least a 6 inch difference
between the right and left.
The number of asymmetries went up as the players got to be 16, 17, 18.
“Why?,” says Harber. “More games. The more you throw, the more imbalances are going to happen.”
On top of that, older players are beginning to get into the weight room, lifting heavier loads and getting tighter.
“If they don’t have somebody addressing mobility and stability along the way, they are going to create more issues,” says Harber.
A joint by joint feet-to-fingertip assessment (going up the kinetic chain) includes:
• Foot stability.
• Ankle mobility.
• Knee stability.
• Hip mobility.
• Lumbar stability.
• Thoracic spine mobility.
• Scapular stability.
• Shoulder (gleno-humeral) mobility.
• Elbow stability.
• Wrist mobility.
“Mobile. Stable. Mobile. Stable,” says Harber. “They stack on top of
each other.
“When that pattern is broken, injuries happen.”

RYANHARBER

Ryan Harber, who pitched at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins organization, has been a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance for 17 years.

 

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.”

JESSEZEPEDA

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)

INDIANABLACKCAPSLOGO

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.

ZACKTHOMPSONUK

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)

ZACKTHOMPSONUK1

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)

 

Pepmeier, Salem Lions looking to raise baseball profile

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Salem (Ind.) High School is located on the northwest side of the county seat in Washington County. The city is about 40 miles northwest of Louisville, Ky.

On the boys side, Salem’s sports identity revolves around the gridiron.

“Salem has always been a football town,” says first-year Lions head baseball coach Jason Pepmeier. “Baseball’s never been a real important sport in our school.

“We’d like to put ourselves on the map.”

Pepmeier, a 1992 Salem graduate and former baseball assistant, wants the Lions to roar on the diamond.

“We put in a lot of work in the off-season and hope to reap the rewards down the road,” says Pepmeier. “We hope to get this thing rolling.

“There’s some good baseball in this area. I’d put our conference in (IHSAA Class) 3A up against anybody in the state. We hope to be competitive.”

Pepmeier says there are usually between 24 and 30 players for varsity and junior varsity teams. He and assistants Jerry Hickey, Gregg Oppel and Jeffrey Burch have been working with 29 this spring as the Lions prepare for the 2019 season.

While Xavier Haendiges graduated early and is now on the baseball roster at Ohio University, returnees include senior Brandon Pepmeier and sophomore Brody Pepmeier — the coach’s sons.

Salem (enrollment around 575) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Non-conference opponents include Crawford County, Madison, Mitchell, New Washington, Orleans, Paoli, Providence, South Central, Southwestern (Hanover), Springs Valley and West Washington

The Lions are part of a 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, North Harrison, Providence, Scottsburg and Silver Creek. Salem has won three sectional titles — the last in 1996.

Besides Providence, which moved up from 2A because of the IHSAA tournament success factor, Salem and Brownstown Central (enrollment around 575) are the smallest schools in the sectional field. Silver Creek is around 880, Scottsburg 780, Corydon Central 700 and North Harrison 680.

“I’d like to see (the IHSAA) go to five or six classes,” says Pepmeier. “There are quite a few discrepancies (in school sizes with the current classes).

“I’m not sure if it will ever happen.”

Besides Salem Little League, there is a junior high club program with about a dozen players on both the seventh and eighth grade squads which compete in the spring on the high school diamond.

Travel ball options include the Smash, Southern Indiana Heat, Ironmen and Rawlings Tigers.

Pepmeier moved from Vincennes to Salem in 1986 and played four years of high school baseball for head coach Derek Smith.

“He still teaches at the school and is good friend of mine,” says Pepmeier of Smith. “He was a great players’ coach. He had good baseball mind and was very supportive of all of us when when went through school.”

When Pepmeier played right field for the Lions, he had to contend with a hill inside the ballpark. That problem was fixed about a decade ago.

“It’s in pretty good shape compete to what it used to be,” says Pepmeier, who indicates that he would like to see lights installed at the on-campus facility.

Pepmeier earned a business management degree from the University of Southern Indiana in 1996 and is married to 1994 Salem graduate Kandi. He is an agent with Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in Salem.

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The Pepmeiers (clockwise from bottom left): Jason, Kandi, Brandon and Brody. Jason Pepmeier is the head baseball coach at Salem (Ind.) High School. Brandon and Brody are two of his players. Jason and Kandi are both Salem graduates.

 

 

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.

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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.