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Mental toughness helps Roncalli grad, current Rays minor leaguer Schnell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.

He expected to catch every fly.

Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.

“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”

Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.

Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.

The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.

“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.

“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”

At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.

Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.

Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.

Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.

He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.

But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.

“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.

Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.

“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”

While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.

Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.

“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”

Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.

“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”

Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.

He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.

“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”

School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.

The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.

“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.

“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”

Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.

Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.

Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.

“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”

Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.

Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.

Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).

Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).

He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.

In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.

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Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)

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Doty sees buying into the program key for Wawasee baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With clear communication as a priority and continuity on the coaching staff, Wawasee High School baseball is looking forward to the 2019 season.

Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee graduate, is entering his sixth season as head coach at his alma mater, which is located in Syracuse, Ind.

Primarily a catcher, Doty was a four-year player for head coach John Blunk at Wawasee. He played two seasons for Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and two seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) for Billy Gernon (now head coach at Western Michigan University).

“I was very fortunate to have those three great baseball coaches,” says Doty. “I was able to pick the nuances that they were really, really good at and try to influence the players in our program with those things.”

With Blunk, it was his knowledge of the game and his drive.

“His passion for it was huge,” says Doty. “Coach Hannahs was just so detailed in everything he did. He always wanted things done correctly. He would show you specifically how it needs to be done.”

Gernon was also very organized.

“We had a schedule we followed every day to a T,” says Doty of Gernon. “It was timed out — 15 minutes here, 30 there. It’s the detail they go into at the college level because they have to, they have such limited time each day and each season.

“I thought that would transition nicely with us to get as much accomplished in a day’s practice as we can.

Wawasee players know what to expect when they come out to practice.

“It’s never, ‘Hey, coach! What are we doing today?’,” says Doty. “They know the expectation and it makes practice run a lot smoother. Hopefully that’s going to turn into success as we continue to go down the road.”

An IHSAA rule change allows for a limited coach-athlete contact period. Coaches can work with an unlimited number of players for two two-hour practice slots per week during a window in the fall.

Doty and his staff, which includes associate head coach Vince Rhodes, Scott Beasley and volunteer Kent Doty (his father) at the varsity level and a to-be-named head coach and assistant Brett Carson with the junior varsity, have been leading outdoor practices for a few weeks.

“That’s nice for us,” says Doty. “We can get live swings, grounders and fly balls.”

Team concepts — like bunt coverages — can be drilled outside and give them a true look as opposed to doing it indoors.

“It’s been nice to implement some of those things,” says Doty. “But you don’t have your full team so you’re not gong to go so in-depth.”

With fall sports going on, there have been 10 to 12 at most sessions.

“A lot of our guys play multiple sports,” says Doty. “At a school of our size (around 950 students) they have to. We can’t just rely on single-sport athletes.

“We want you to get in as many sports as you can.”

The IHSAA-adopted 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) has now been on the scene for two seasons.

What does Doty think of it?

“It’s definitely good for the kids,” says Doty. “Player safety is always going to be No. 1.

“The 120 max is good, too. I can’t see myself going farther than that.”

Doty says one change in 2019 is that the JV will be on the same regimen as the varsity.

“It’s good,” says Doty of the switch. “Why does a sophomore playing on varsity get to throw more than a sophomore throwing on JV?”

One way that Doty and company build pitching depth is by giving many players an opportunity to see what they can do on the mound, especially at the JV level.

“If you’ve got a healthy arm, you’re probably going to pitch at some point,” says Doty.

A year ago, Wawasee had more than three dozen players for varsity and JV squads. Being very senior-laden, the varsity carried 21 players.

The number depends largely on the number of potential pitchers and those who can play multiple positions.

It’s important for each player to know how they can contribute to the program.

“We talk with each player individually and say this is where we see this as your role for the year,” says Doty. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there or written in stone. But this is what we expect of you or as a varsity or JV player or a swing guy (that could see playing time on both).

“If they start to develop into something we didn’t foresee at the start of the year, we transition them into that. We allow them to have ownership of their role because once they buy into their role, it’s only going to make us better as a program.”

Staff stability also translates to a consistent message.

Doty began his post-college career as a teacher and an assistant baseball coach at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C. When he took over the program for the 2014 season, he was the third head coach in three years for that junior class.

“Building that continuity and having that same staff year after year is only going to help us be successful going forward,” says Doty.

The 2018 season saw Wawasee go 8-16 with some growing pains.

“We also saw some bright spots that we can build on,” says Doty, who identifies juniors Levi Brown and Carter Woody and sophomores Kameron Salazar and Parker Young as being among the top returning Warriors.

Recent Wawasee graduates on college baseball rosters are Jake Garcia (Goshen), Blaine Greer (Ivy Tech Northeast), Aaron Voirol (Grace).

Buildings and grounds personnel have talked about adding more bleachers down the foul lines past the dugouts at Warrior Field.

Wawasee softball added a windscreen last year. Doty says the same might be coming for baseball along with the addition of a batter’s eye. Right now, the backdrop is a water tower.

Getting lights has also been the part of discussions, which would aid in hosting tournaments.

Wawasee is a member of the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth and Warsaw).

The conference will again employ a double-round robin schedule with each team meeting each other home and away in two rotations.

“The coaches in the NLC talk often and we like it,” says Doty. “You don’t always see the same team at the end of the year as you do at the beginning. It allows for you to grow.

“We get to see teams progress as they get a little deeper into the season.”

Wawasee played in the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional (along with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley and West Noble) in 2018.

After teaching at Wawasee Middle School, Doty has moved to the high school where he serves as both physical education/health teacher and assistant athletic director.

Brent and Ashley Doty have three children — Luke (5), Logan (3) and Emma (1).

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Brent Doty, a 2002 Wawasee High School graduate, is entering his sixth season as head baseball coach at the school in Syracuse, Ind., in 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

IHSBCA All-Star catcher Jones of Carroll Chargers a product of his baseball upbringing

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Jones has already been in Starkville, Miss., for a couple weeks, getting acclimated to classes and baseball at Mississippi State University.

The lefty-swinging catcher and 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate will take a break this weekend when he participates in the 44th annual Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.

Hayden, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, will be on the North squad and representing not only the Carroll Chargers but one of the state’s famous baseball families.

One of the founding members of the IHSBCA was Hayden’s grandfather, Bill Jones. A former head coach at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Ind., the elder Jones served for decades as the association’s secretary-treasurer and then acted as executive director.

Bill Jones coached DeKalb to an IHSAA state championship in 1980 and was added to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 1982. His teams won 751 games. Jones died in 2015.

One of Bill and Mildred Jones’ sons — Ken Jones — was a catcher at DeKalb, where he graduated in 1990. He redshirted his freshman year at Western Michigan University, where he played four seasons and was an all-conference performer and academic All-American. He was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and played that summer in the minors. Ken was an assistant coach at Ball State University and Western Michigan and is now the senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.

Ken and Jennifer Jones’ only child is Hayden.

Did his grandpa and father have an impact on his baseball career?

“Big time,” says Hayden. “Dad and Grandpa pushed me to the best of my ability. They taught me about being a leader on the field and hustling all the time. Even if it’s a grounder to second base, you 100 percent down he first base line. They expected that out of me or my cousins.”

Cousin Chris Menzie played at Huntington University. Cousin Tyler Jones is heading into his junior year at the University of Dayton.

Hayden learned something else he considers valuable.

“When a coach stops yelling at you is the time he gives up on you,” says Hayden. “Players nowadays are coddled. They don’t want people to push them like back in the old days.

“When a coach yells at me it’s getting me better.”

During his early arrival at college, he has already been getting pushed.

“They’re on your tail constantly,” says Hayden. “That gets you better in the long run.”

Hayden verbally committed to Mississippi State two summers ago and stuck with that decision through several head coaching changes. When he picked the Bulldogs from among 17 NCAA Division I programs that showed serious interest, John Cohen was the head coach. Since then, the Diamond Dawgs have been led by Andy Cannizaro, Gary Henderson and now former Indiana University coach Chris Lemonis.

Hayden’s father had told him that there is always the potential for coaching changes in college baseball.

“I committed to a good program and a good school,” says Hayden, who is one of 10 Mississippi State recruits to enroll in summer school and plans to major in turf management. “I wasn’t going to de-commit. They made a commitment to me with a scholarship.”

While he played in the Prep Baseball Report Future Games, Hayden did not appear in too many showcase events. With all his dad’s relationships in college baseball, Hayden and Ken picked three apiece and the young catcher went to their camps and had follow-up visits. Most of those made scholarship offers.

“That’s the way we feel it should be done,” says Hayden.

He was about 6 when his father gave Hayden an old set of catching gear, but he spent quite a bit of time as a pitcher and third baseman before getting more reps behind the plate at 12. Ken coached Hayden with the Flippin’ Frogs travel team from age 9 to 17.

“He was always around older guys and seeing a faster pace of play,” says Ken. “He has been getting a little bit of extra instruction along the way.”

Last summer, the Flippin’ Frogs played in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League.

Hayden has taken advantage of his dad’s baseball know-how.

“He’s really pushed me, but it was fun for me,” says Hayden. “I got to see and learn from my dad.”

Hayden, who grew up around Huntertown, Ind., and turned 18 in April, says it’s the family joke that he’s out to prove he’s a better catcher than his father was.

With a “pop” time of 1.72 seconds and a throw clocked at 89 mph, Hayden’s arm turns heads.

“I can keep runners close on the bases,” says Hayden, who’s also adept at receiving pitches, blocking balls in the dirt and handling pitchers.

Hayden considers him as gap hitter who can hit to both the opposite field and pull-side. Ken says his son chose to hit lefty because he watched most of Western Michigan’s lineup hit from that side as a small boy.

“He decided that’s how you’re supposed to do it,” says Ken.

“I can get the ball in play where it needs to be in certain situations,” says Hayden, who hit .545 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in as a Class 4A first-team all-stater for a Carroll team coached by Dave Ginder.

“He’s an awesome man,” says Hayden of Ginder. “He pushes you just like my grandpa would. He will make you a better person and a better ballplayer.”

Even after the season and graduation, Hayden and Ginder stay connected through FaceTime. A math teacher, Ginder has been able to help Jones with his Mississippi State homework. “He’s there to support you know matter what.”

Ginder coached Carroll to back-to-back state IHSAA Class 4A titles in 2010 and 2011.

That’s when Hayden was playing with the Frogs while at least two years younger than most of his teammates.

“That team was about development and learning,” says Hayden. “We were not trophy chasers.”

The core of the squad that went all the way through with Hayden ended up in college baseball — Nick Chao (Wabash College), Alec Craig (Danville Area Community College), Parker Noll (Wabash College), Skyler Noll (Indiana Tech) and Thomas Parker (Anderson University).

“The Frogs were like brothers,” says Hayden. “Thomas Parker always helped me like an older brother. If I’d get lazy in the (batting) cage, he’d always make sure I was working as hard as I could.”

Hayden sees advantages and disadvantages to being an only child.

“I’m the focus of our family,” says Hayden. “Mom and dad have always been there to support me on and off the field. Mom went from office job to working from home so she could drive me to practice.

“The disadvantage is I can’t blame anybody else if I get in trouble.”

IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES

(At South Bend)

Friday, July 20

Junior Showcase (Four Winds Field), 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

North practice (Four Winds Field), 1:15 to 3 p.m.

South practice (Four Winds Field), 3 to 4:45 p.m.

Banquet (Great Room at Century Center), 7 p.m. Keynote speaker is Greg Kloosterman (former Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College standout who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and now runs the Game Changers travel organization in Canonsburg, Pa.). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for 10-and-under.

Saturday, July 21

(Four Winds Field)

Pregame with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and posthumous tributes to IHSBCA founders and Hall of Famers Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber, 11:35 a.m.

First pitch for doubleheader, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Sunday, July 22

First pitch for single wood-bat game, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.

Note: This year marks the fourth time the series has come to South Bend. It was staged at Clay Park in 1976, Coveleski Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field) in 1989 and Notre Dame in 2008 … The North leads the all-time series 65-61, dating back to 1975.

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Hayden Jones, a 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate, is an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and North/South Series All-Star. The catcher is going to Mississippi State University.

 

Risedorph has NorthWood Panthers playing baseball with accountability, confidence, toughness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If it seems like NorthWood High School baseball players are jacked up all the time, there’s a reason for that.

First-year Panthers head coach A.J. Risedorph asked his players at the Elkhart County school and that’s the way they want to attack the 2018 season.

Several players, including seniors Payton Bear and Brant Mast (a Spring Arbor University signee) and juniors Matt Dutkowski and Alec Holcomb, return from a 2017 squad went 26-2 overall and 14-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and won IHSAA Class 3A NorthWood Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles with Jay Sheets at the helm.

“We want to be high energy the entire game,” says Risedorph, a former NorthWood assistant baseball coach who returns as the leader of the program after a season away from the diamond. “We celebrate everything — regardless of outcome.”

A batter might see six pitches then fly out to center field.

But it’s a “quality at-bat.”

“We put a positive spin on something they would normally look at as failure,” says Risedorph. “Positive reinforcement is huge.”

In the Panthers’ first two games of the campaign (a 13-0 win against Westview and 9-8 triumph against Mishawaka), Risedorph has noticed Dutkowski coming up to his teammates and lending encouragement and that’s the kind of culture the NorthWood social studies teacher and student council sponsor is trying to build.

Risedorph wants his club to react well to adversity, something the Panthers did when down 8-7 in the seventh inning against Mishawaka.

“We don’t win that game is our guys panic,” says Risedorph. “I’m real happy with the group that we have. They are level-headed. They have ice in their veins.”

A graduate of East Noble High School (2006) and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne (2011), former right-handed pitcher, shortstop and third baseman Risedorph has drawn some of his coaching philosophies and methods from his high school and college coaches and one current mentor.

“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of leaders,” says Risedorph.

Kevin Irons was his head baseball coach at East Noble as the Knights competed in the old Northeast Hoosier Conference (along with Bellmont, Columbia City, DeKalb, Huntington North, Leo, New Haven and Norwell).

Billy Gernon and then Bobby Pierce led the way at IPFW. Mastodons pitching coach Grant Birely also played a big role.

Irons brought Risedorph up to the varsity midway through his freshmen season and taught him plenty about the game.

Risedorph recalls the intensity of a Gernon-led practice.

“He really set a standard for that,” says Risedorph. “He made sure guys were going to buy into the program.”

Pierce took over the Mastodons after Gernon left to become head coach at Western Michigan University. Risedorph constantly picked the brains of Pierce and Birely while playing and also while serving as a first base coach during rehabilitation. Injury took away Risedorph’s 2007 and 2010 seasons.

“(Pierce) runs a very pro-style program,” says Risedorph. “He wants you to be you. He wanted players to represent themselves the right way. He didn’t want you to be something you weren’t and he was very big on the mental side.

“(Pierce and Birely) were able to get the best out of us.”

There were no radical changes in batting stances or arm slots. Players were allowed to work within their own approach.

Risedorph lets his players be themselves within a framework.

“They need structure,” says Risedorph. “They do better when they have it.”

Since 2012-13, Risedorph has been a varsity assistant NorthWood head boys basketball coach Aaron Wolfe and the Panthers have gone 123-25 with four sectional crowns during that span.

“He showed me that you can have meaningful professional relationships with student-athletes,” says Risedorph of Wolfe.

Attending his first Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in January, Risedorph picked up some pointers about practice structure from Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki and outfield play from Indiana University Kokomo head coach Matt Howard.

Risedorph, who counts Matt Cox and Kevin Roberts as varsity assistants and Greg Estepp and Aaron Arnold as junior varsity coaches guiding a group of 32 players, has his practices broken down into individualized instruction, group skills and team skills.

While “Embrace the Pace” means one thing to the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, it’s another kind of progression for the Panthers.

“There’s no down time,” says Risedorph. “There has to be a pace to our practice.

“We try to put ourselves in stressful situations. It’s so hard to simulate that stuff in practice. It comes from our pace.

“Yet we want to be calm when we do it. You cannot perform when you’re not loose.”

Risedorph says Birely used to say, “Know your numbers” — as in the stress scale.

“Sometimes you need to step back, breathe and slow your heart rate,” says Risedorph. “(The mentality is) Next Pitch. You don’t let the momentum get the best of you — good or bad.”

NorthWood players are also expected to embrace the concepts of being accountable, confident and tough.

Accountability means doing the right thing, at the right time, all the time.

Confidence entails the beliefs and behaviors that result from a passion to make oneself better.

Toughness is part of being ready, relentless and responsive.

The 2017 sectional title marked the 11th in NorthWood history and sixth since 2011. The regional championship was the program’s first since 1983.

In 2018, the Panthers are in a 3A sectional group with Angola, Fairfield, Lakeland, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee and West Noble.

Besides NorthWood, the NLC features Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

Many NorthWood players are part of travel baseball organizations, including the Michiana Scrappers and Indiana Chargers.

Estepp coaches the NorthWood 14U team in the summer.

“We are not short of quality coaches in this area,” says Risedorph. “It’s nice they care about the kids’ future.

“We’re very fortunate so many of these kids are putting in work.”

Risedorph says he is looking to get more involved with Nappanee Youth Baseball League and Wakarusa Baseball/Softball League.

Before landing at NorthWood, a part of Wa-Nee Community Schools and where former Bremen baseball coach Norm Sellers is athletic director, Risedorph taught for one year at East Noble Middle School and was a baseball assistant to Irons. Risedorph did his student teaching at Fort Wayne Snider High School.

A.J. and Jenna Risedorph have two daughters — Quinlynn (4) and Reagan (1). A.J. is the son of Randy and Iolet Risedorph and has three brothers — Ryan, Eric and Brayden.

NorthWood graduate Blake Cleveland is now playing baseball at Central Michigan University.

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A.J. Risedorph is in his first season as NorthWood High School head baseball coach. The East Noble High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne graduate is back with the program after a year away. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Pierce puts long-term plan in place for D-I Fort Wayne Mastodons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going from a squad full of veterans and experiencing NCAA Division I baseball success in 2016, the Mastodons of Fort Wayne had much less college experience and suffered growing pains in 2017.

With a new focus, Fort Wayne is looking to get things turned around in 2018 under the guidance of 10th-year head coach Bobby Pierce.

“We wore it last year,” says Pierce, who saw the Mastodons go 9-43 after losing 14 impact players — senior shortstop Greg Kaiser, senior outfielder Brandon Soat and and drafted sophomore pitcher Evan Miller among them — from a 33-26 campaign in ’16 that included a second straight trip to the Summit League tournament finals. “(Junior college) guys made the (2016) team as good as it could be. Freshmen (in 2017) need to learned how to play here and do damage on the Division I level.

“But we like to think over the next three or four years, that was worth it. Strategically, it’s the right move to get where we want to get. We have to think more long-term. Up until this time, we were using a steady mix of high school and junior college guys and it was holding us back a little bit.”

Fort Wayne just wrapped annual fall workouts with the Blue-Black intrasquad series with teams captained by sophomore infielder Travis Upp and junior pitcher Damian Helm on one side and junior infielder Brandon Yoho and senior pitcher Brandon Phelps on the other.

“We got after it somewhere in the middle of September,” says Pierce. “We’ve been grinding it out until this (past) weekend.”

Pierce, assistants Grant Birely and Connor Lawhead and the Dons will continue work in preparation for the 2018 campaign.

As he goes forward, Pierce has the longest tenure as head coach in program history. Previous coach Billy Gernon (now at Western Michigan University) was also in charge for nine seasons.

Pierce, who turned 39 on Oct. 17, came to Fort Wayne with lessons learned as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

A Las Vegas native, Pierce played for Rodger Fairless at Green Valley High School in Henderson, Nev. Fairless coached 12 state championship teams at three Nevada schools. He helped develop Greg Maddux before going to Green Valley and turning that school into a diamond powerhouse. With the Gators, he produced a state champion in the program’s third season. Two Green Valley players — Chad Hermansen and Dave Krynzel — went on to the big leagues.

Pierce, a middle infielder, played at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Central Arizona College and New Mexico State University.

Clint Myers was Pierce’s head coach at Central Arizona. National Fastpitch Coaches’ Association Hall of Famer Myers won more than 1,000 games as a baseball and softball coach with a number of national titles to his credit.

At New Mexico State, Pierce played for National College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Ward and his son, Rocky Ward.

“I’m very fortunate to come from a very good pedigree of coaches,” says Pierce. “(Fairless) was super disciplinarian and fundamental coach and that was a great start for me. I got indoctrinated in it during my high school career. (Myers) taught me a team management perspective.”

Through structured live play drills in practice, Pierce is able to grow a player’s intelligence in playing the game — something he gained from Myers.

Pierce considers Gary Ward one of the best offensive-minded coaches of all-time and styles his Fort Wayne offense based in the Hall of Famer’s philosophy.

After he was done playing (he developed a labrum injury at New Mexico State), Pierce had planned to become an accountant in Albuquerque.

But fate intervened — hiring was curtailed after Sept. 11, 2001 and he was asked to go back to college for more schooling.

Pierce instead pursued coaching, first serving as an assistant at Central Arizona then the University of Arkansas-Little Rock (where he pulled his first tarp) before becoming head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver for two seasons before becoming head coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne for the 2009 season.

“The early years were hard. I was cutting my teeth,” says Pierce. “But you have to cut your teeth and learn your craft somehow.”

Pierce explains why he has stayed longer in the position than anyone else.

“It speaks to the people I work with and the community,” says Pierce. “The city of Fort Wayne is great. My family (Bobby and Lizette Pierce have two children — Bobby Jr., and Daycee) has grown roots and really love it here.

“I’ve been very fortunate to coach some student-athletes and been around great people. I love this job and I love baseball.”

Fort Wayne pulls many players from northern Indiana and the Indianapolis area, but is able to draw from outside of the state with the school’s policy of out-of-state students paying 150 percent of what in-staters pay.

“Before, we couldn’t afford out-of-state players,” says Pierce. “Their dollar goes further now. Indiana residents are still cheaper on our books. We target Indiana kids. We still like home cooking. We try to turn rocks up here.”

NCAA Division I allows 11.7 scholarships for baseball. Pierce says that of the 35 players on the roster, 27 of them can be on scholarship and those are broken up based on a number of factors, including performance and need.

“There is no such thing as a full-ride,” says Pierce.

Like most programs, most money goes to pitchers and then to the interior of the defense (catcher, shortstop, center field).

“We think we can do a good job of developing hitters,” says Pierce. “We spend the majority of our money in pitching.”

Balance must also be considered.

“Like pro baseball, if you overspend in one area, you are going to be light in another area,” says Pierce. “It becomes a numbers game.”

Pierce is proud to say that the Mastodons have performed well in the classroom with three straight years of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale) as a team grade-point average. All players are encouraged to graduate in four years and take 15 hours in both the fall and spring semesters.

To help them meet their scholarly goals, schedules are made to limit the amount of missed class time. There is an academic advisor, study halls and the resources of the Mastodon Academic Performance Center.

“I’ve proctored exams,” says Pierce. “Professors on our campus are willing to work with us. We’ve got it figured out.”

Being in the Summit League with Denver, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western Illinois, there is plenty of travel.

But it’s not like the first few years of NCAA Division I status as an independent. That’s when Fort Wayne was on the road for all but a handful of its 56 regular-season games away from Mastodon Field. Having no conference ties meant a berth in the NCAA tournament was virtually impossible.

One former Don player is seeing the world while still playing the game. Caleb Fenimore, a senior catcher on the 2014 team, was recently named the top hitter in the North in the German Professional League. The Rushville Consolidated High School graduate has played in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter.

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Bobby Pierce is entering his 10th season at head coach of Fort Wayne Mastodons baseball in 2018. The NCAA Division I program is a member of the Summit League. (Fort Wayne Mastodons Photo)

 

 

Confidence is everything for Nadolny and his John Glenn Falcons

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Continual improvement.

That’s the goal of veteran baseball coach John Nadolny as he prepares players for his 17th season at John Glenn High School in St. Joseph County and 25th head-coaching campaign overall.

“‘Get better everyday.’ That’s what I say to these guys,” says Nadolny. “If you had a bad day today, tomorrow’s got to be better for you. Let’s find something positive in what you do everyday.

“This is such a mental game and confidence in high school is everything. You fail. You learn. You go on and get better.”

The coach knows that an average high school team with some confidence is going to be a superior team without confidence much of the time.

Nadolny wants his squad to improve as its progresses through fall ball to winter workouts to preseason indoor training to the first time they step outside in the spring. Then there’s the in-season adjustments.

“We get better at the year goes on every year,” says Nadolny. “We share a lot of kids athletically (at an IHSAA Class 3A school with an enrollment around 600). We don’t have a lot of travel baseball players. We’ve elevated some kids to a pretty good level.”

While Nadolny — aka “Nud” — will raise his voice when he deems it necessary, he is not the yeller and screamer he was as a younger coach — a result of mellowing with age and with the athletes he’s now coaching.

“Kids are a little bit more sensitive nowadays — to a point,” says Nadolny, a 1981 South Bend Riley graduate. “Not everybody is the same. I understand kids and I read kids now better than I ever did.

“We’ve had our success.”

In 24 years as a head coach (at both Riley and Glenn), Nadolny is 480-223. He has sent 36 players on to college baseball and had Josh Glenn (1995 by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Andy Groves (2003 by the Kansas City Royals and 2007 by the Colorado Rockies) taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Four of Nadolny’s players have been chosen for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Glenn (1995) and Brian Stultz (1996) at Riley, Groves (2003) and Justin Gierlowski (2014; he did not play) at Glenn. Stultz was MVP of the series in Jasper.

Two of his former Glenn catchers —  the ones that he trusted to call all the pitches — are now college coaches. Doug Buysse is head coach at Indiana University South Bend and Adam Piortowicz is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Western Michigan University.

Nadolny has racked up eight sectional titles (1991 at Riley and 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2017 at Glenn). Besides the sectional crown in the first year as head coach, Nadolny took three straight Wildcat clubs to the sectional championship game.

Nadolny’s Falcons reigned at the Kankakee Valley Sectional in 2016 and 2017 and have all 23 pitching wins back for 2018.

There have been four regional championships (1991 at Riley and 2003, 2005 and 2006 at Glenn) one Final Four appearance (2003 at Glenn). The Falcons lost to eventual state runner-up Western in the regional semifinals in 2016 and eventual state champion South Bend St. Joseph in the regional finals in 2017.

“Those were awesome weekends when you had to win two in a day and there was no class system. No one remembers those anymore,” says Nadolny. “You might win three games in the sectional then two at regional, two at semistate and two at state. Those days are long gone. You had to have two really good pitchers.”

There’s also the eight conference titles (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 in the Northern State Conference and 2017 in the Northern Indiana Conference South Division — all at Glenn).

The 13-team NIC includes Glenn, Bremen, Jimtown, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South Division and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North Division. Nadolny says seeing strong pitching day in and day out in the conference has helped the Falcons at state tournament time.

The long-time coach does not take all the credit for the winning.

“I’ve been good because I’ve had good assistants,” says Nadolny, who has Joe Gambill as a varsity assistant. Gambill has been with Nadolny for all but one of his seasons at Glenn. Leland Travis (third season) and Brad Laskowski (second season) lead the junior varsity Falcons. Denny Stull was Nadolny’s assistant in all nine of his years in charge at Riley.

Nadolny sees himself as the product of the people who taught him the game over the years. Some of the ways, he loved and adopted. Others, he did not and did not make a part of his program.

“As I decided I was going to be a coach and a teacher, I kind of picked and pecked from everybody,” says Nadolny. “Everybody did things differently and tried to get the same result.

“I’ve was fortunate enough to play and coach against (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame coaches like Ric Tomaszewski (South Bend Washington), Len Buczkowski (South Bend Adams) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay). They were all successful. Why wouldn’t I follow some of the things they’ve done? I took my personality and the way I feel about stuff and it all blended together.”

After playing for Jackson Middle School in ninth grade, Nadolny was a three-year varsity player for Ralph “Peanuts” Pieniazkiewicz at South Bend Riley High School and then played four seasons for Dick Patterson at Bethel College in Mishawaka.

“I learned a lot from Ralph. I learned discipline,” says Nadolny. “He was like a second father to me. I played for him and coached with him (1987-90) and took the Riley job when he left.

Nadolny grew to appreciate Pieniazkiewicz as the years unfolded.

“I got to understand him a little more about where he was coming from as I got older — like you do with anybody else,” says Nadolny. “As your life goes on you learn to see things through other people’s eyes and you step in their shoes a little bit.

“It’s the process of learning and living and coaching. As a player, you think you know everything.”

Nadolny drew some lessons about relationships from observing Patterson.

“He knew how to treat people,” said Nadolny. “One thing about him is that he let us play. We were pretty good.”

As a senior in 1986, pitcher/first baseman Nadolny played for a Bethel team that won the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Pilots had to win three games on the last day of the double-elimination tournament, which meant Nadolny missed graduation exercises.

“That was probably the happiest day of my life,” says Nadolny. “Anytime you’re on the field with a chance to play is a good day.

“There were a lot of good ballplayers at Bethel.”

The Pilots had a roster filled with South Bend area talent.

Steve Hosinski (LaVille High School graduate) Kevin McNamara (Mishawaka Marian) were NCCAA All-Americans. BC’s all-Mid-Central Conference selections included Hosinski, McNamara, Scott Holland (Plymouth), Rick Romeo (Adams) and Joey Underwood (Jimtown).

Hosinski won a then-school record 13 games while striking out 103 batters in 99 1/3 innings in 1986. Romeo set a then-BC mark with 58 walks.

Nadolny established standards at the time with 12 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His slugging percentage was .736 in 1986 and .623 for his college career. When he was a freshman, Scott Anderson (Penn) hit .469 — which still stands as the top single-season mark in Pilots history.

John first learned the game on the lots around his South Bend neighborhood and at South Bend Southside Little League, where his father Stanley became a fixture. Stanley and Betty Nadolny had five children — Cathy, Jackie, Steve, Rick and John. Steve is a member of the Manchester University Athletic Hall of Fame.

John learned from his big brothers and while playing for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and later in the Michiana adult league with the St. Joe AC’s.

After college, the youngest of the Nadolny offspring went into teaching in South Bend and became a Riley baseball assistant. He was with the Wildcats until 1999 then did some scouting before landing the coaching job at Glenn. He has also been a special education teacher at the school in Walkterton.

This fall, Nadolny has conducted optional open fields a couple times a week while planning a trivia night fundraiser. When fall ball wraps, work will begin in earnest on upgrades to the home and visiting dugouts.

At Glenn, it’s all about continual improvement.

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John Nadolny is heading into his 25th season as a high school head baseball coach in 2018. It will be his 17th at John Glenn in Walkerton, Ind. He started his career at his alma mater — South Bend Riley. He has 480 career victories. (Gregory Ladewski Photo)

 

 

Creating opportunities, building character among goals of Michiana Scrappers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With its focus on competition, instruction and development, the Michiana Scrappers travel organization is in its 14th season in 2017.

Began in 2004 with one 15/16 squad — the School of Hard Knocks Scrappers — the Michiana Scrappers now have 17 baseball teams in age groups 9U through 17U (the organization is also involved in softball, basketball and hockey).

There are 260 baseball players and 38 softball players currently playing in tournaments around the Midwest — put on by Baseball Player’s Association, Pastime, United States Speciality Sports Association, Bullpen and others — and training out of The Scrap Yard in Elkhart.

Teams practice twice a week January to April and one to two times a week during the season, which concludes in late July or early August. Tryouts for 2018 are slated for July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6.

Players 9U to 14U are often invited back for the next season. All players 15U and above are asked to try out.

Scrappers founder Brian Blondell reports a low turnover rate of 8 percent.

“Most kids in our organization are not leaving,” says Blondell. “We’re usually filling 1-2 spot max per team.”

Once players try out, coaching staffs will have a chance to offer their sales pitch to the families of players they want. Trying to find the best fit is a priority.

About the time the Scrappers came along, summer high school programs were decreasing and travel ball was growing so then-South Bend St. Joseph assistant Blondell found a place for Indians head coach John Gumpf to send his players in the summer.

“We learned a lot,” says Blondell, who is also director of player operation and a 14U head coach in 2017. In 2005, the organization had swelled seven teams and with interest the growth continued.

Softball was added to the mix in 2014.

While Blondell and his coaches, including Greg Fozo and Buddy Tupper with the current 14U squad, are just as competitive as anyone and the Scrappers have won their share of tournaments, win-at-all-costs is not the driving force.

“Nobody is gaining anything by winning a trophy,” says Blondell. “We’re trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be. The era we’re in — with a lot of parents — everything is driven by awards, placement and trophies.

“We focus on development. If we develop correctly, we’re going to win a lot of championships.”

With a few exceptions, Scrappers players come from the counties surrounding South Bend and Elkhart.

While players are working to make themselves better and — for the older players — get college exposure for themselves, the Scrappers emphasize that baseball is a team game.

“It’s not an individual sport,” says Blondell, the pitching coach at Elkhart Memorial High School (Crimson Chargers head coach Scott Rost and assistant Bruce Baer are Scrappers head coaches) and former head coach at Indiana University South Bend, Holy Cross College and South Bend Riley High School. “We’re about growing and developing a team environment.”

The implied daily question to players: How are you helping our team get better?

After all, high school and college coaches want good teammates and not selfish players.

Distinguished Scrapper alums include Evan Miller (LaPorte H.S.; IPFW; San Diego Padres system), Chad Whitmer (Penn H.S.; Southern Illinois U.; New York Yankees system), Nathan Thomas (Mishawaka Marian H.S.; Northern Illinois U.), Brock Logan (Northrdge H.S.; IPFW), Blake Cleveland (NorthWood H.S.; Central Michigan U.), Shannon Baker (Northridge H.S.; IPFW), Brett Carlson (South Bend Riley H.S.; Austin Peay U.; Purdue U.) and Pat Borlik (South Bend Washington H.S.; Western Michigan U.).

Just like Sam Riggleman — his coach at Bethel College — said to Blondell, Scrappers are expected to “check their ego at the door.”

“We do everything as a team,” says Blondell, whose son Bryce Blondell plays on his squad. “I also want it to feel like family. We allow them to be kids and really enjoy it.”

Mike Logan, head coach of a 16U team in 2017, is in his 11th season with the Scrappers.

The former Northridge High School head coach sees his job as getting college exposure, building up their baseball skills and teaching them life lessons.

Logan tells players and their parents about college opportunities and stresses the academic side of the equation.

“A lot of times schools might not have much athletic money to give,” says Logan. But there is bound to be funds for good students.

Logan points players toward showcases and sends out weekly emails to college coaches giving them the Scrappers schedules, roster, contact numbers and more.

With players coming from so many different backgrounds, Logan and his assistants — Brian Bishop and Chad Sherwood — stay with the fundamentals and build on their foundation of skills.

Most importantly to Logan is developing “young men of character.”

“This game can teach you about failure,” says Logan. “You get to learn to handle adversity at a young aage. When they become adults, it’s for real.”

Logan, which coached older son Brock with the Scrappers and now is with younger son Nick, sees a group of players that it is talented enough to be successful on the diamond and is also tight off the field.

One group text message and the boys are off the movies together.

It’s this kind of philosophy which drew the former Indiana Dirt Devils from the Fremont area to join the organization in 2017 as the 13U Black Scrappers.

“The kids in that organization are amazing,” says 13U pitching coach Geoff Gilbert. “They support each other. (Younger players) know who the better older kids in our organization are they talk about them all the time. They look up to them.

“I brag on my team all the time and they are pretty good, but our kids are even better young men than they are baseball players.”

The Dirt Devils won two BPA World Series titles, finished second in another and high in yet another before hooking up with Blondell and company.

“The Scrappers have a great reputation,” says Gilbert, who counts son and left-hander Carter Gilbert among his pitchers. “They have big-name recognition. We were a little tiny team in a little tiny pond and couldn’t get kids to try out with us. We’ll be drawing from a much bigger talent pool.”

As a single-team organization, the Dirt Devils dictated everything. With the Scrappers, where Blondell handles all the administrative matters, Gilbert, head coach Brian Jordan and assistant Michael Hogan retain control over their roster and some say in their schedule while also benefitting from the bulk buying power of a larger organization which is sponsored by DeMarini and Wilson.

“With everything they had to offer in the winter, it was a great opportunity,” says Gilbert, who works a few nights a week at the Scrap Yard and has daughter Ava Gilbert playing for the 10U Lady Scrappers team. “We decided to make the switch.”

With players spread out, 13U Black practices one day a week in Ashley (near Fremont and Kendallville) and once at either Pierre Moran or Riverview parks in Elkhart or Newton Park in Lakeville. The older teams practice at Elkhart Memorial, Elkhart Central or South Bend Washington high schools. Scrappers softball practices are conducted at Penn High School.

While players 15U and above tend to play after the high school season is over, the younger teams like 13U Black play 10 to 12 tournaments in the spring and summer.

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The Michiana Scrappers 13U Black players and families celebrate the Fourth of July. in 2017 (Michiana Scrappers Photo)