Tag Archives: Westville

Kouts’ Tucker wears many hats — coach, teacher, husband, blogger, podcaster, wiffleballer

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jim Tucker wants to make a difference in the lives of kids.

His vehicles are the classroom and the baseball diamond.

Tucker teaches Language Arts and Reading to middle schoolers at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and also serves as head baseball coach. The 2019 season will be his third leading the Kouts Mustangs.

As an educator, Tucker helps students along their path.

“I try to get the kids to be able to handle the real world,” says Tucker. “I tell them, ‘you can be who you want to be.’

“This is the toughest time in history to be a teenager. You can never shut it off.”

Tucker relates to his students and players through his ability to connect.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Tucker. “I get buy-in from the kids through stories, emotion and feelings.

“In coaching and teaching, I am a relationship builder and a communicator. The game is just an opportunity to becoming who we want to become.”

Some refer to that as transformational coaching.

“We’re here to shape the kids through baseball,” says Tucker. “We’re building a culture we are proud of from top the bottom. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tucker does not base his worth in his won-loss record — though he wants his players to experience winning.

“It’s about making an impact with these kids,” says Tucker, who was the fifth person named as baseball coach at Kouts when he took the job (John Hall took over the Mustangs softball program before the 2016 season).

His coaching staff includes two men — Randy Yager and Doug Murray — with little or no baseball background, but that’s not the priority.

“I’m more concerned with bringing in good men,” says Tucker. “True growth comes from the conversations after (players) fail.”

First-year volunteer coach Stefan Roney is a Kouts graduate. He was on the last Mustangs teams to win an IHSAA sectional championship in 2011 (Kouts reigned in the tourney held at Washington Township).

Kouts, a school of about 275 students, is in a Class 1A sectional grouping with 21st Century Charter, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

The Mustangs belong to the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, South Central (Union Mills), Washington Township and Westville). Boone Grove won the 2018 Class 2A state title.

Tucker played at Calumet High School in Gary, Ind., graduating in 2008. He then went on Chicago State University and pitched four seasons in five years, sitting out the 2011 campaign recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and earning his English degree in December 2013.

His head coaches at Calumet were Larry Drake and Roger Azbill with Michael Caston leading the CSU Cougars Tucker’s first four years and Steve Joslyn his last.

Azbill approach baseball with a blue-collar mentality.

“I learned toughness,” says Tucker of Azbill. “He wanted you to show up everyday and do your job. You wanted to always try to get better.”

Caston was a Hammond, Ind., native who played at Valparaiso University. His pitching coach at Chicago State was former Lake Central High School, Tampa Bay Rays Triple-A hurler and Gary SouthShore RailCats player Neal Frendling.

What Tucker remembers most from his college baseball experience is playing teams from every corner of the country and seeing the different styles of playing and coaching.

The year he sat out as a player, Tucker traveled with the team and did laundry. But he also decided his baseball future was in coaching. He came away from each trip with page after page of notes.

Before college, Tucker had played travel baseball for Dave Sutkowski with the Hammond Chiefs (now the Morris Baseball Chiefs) and soaked up much about the game. He later coached with Sutkowski.

“He was very detailed,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “Everything was broken down and position-specific. He was also very competitive.

“We run our stuff (at Kouts) very much like we did with the Chiefs.”

Tucker was the pitching coach for Dave Griffin at Purdue-Calumet for one season before joining Steve Strayer’s coaching staff at Crown Point High School leading up to taking the Kouts job in the winter prior to the 2016 season.

“It was awesome learning from (Griffin),” says Tucker. “He does it a little bit differently. He allows guys to do their own thing. He wants to serve as a guy to help you get where you’re going.”

During games, Tucker would see the wheels turning for Griffin.

“He would call things before they happened,” says Tucker. “He was always thinking ahead.”

Tucker was with Strayer at the time the Bulldogs boss suffered a stroke and marvels at how quickly he bounced back.

“I was so impressed how he could manage so many people,” says Tucker of Strayer. “He was very diligent in his planning.

“He always had that growth mindset. He was always learning and adding to coaching tool kit.”

Strayer was quick to share his faith and to ask the opinions of his assistants, making sure to give them ownership in the program and Tucker takes the same tactic with his staff.

Tucker is also part of the new Wheelhouse Baseball podcast. It is part of the Chicago-based Overtime Sports Network, which promotes its various podcasts and blogs.

With Tucker, best friend and former Chicago State teammate Jeremy Ratjaczyk and avid podcaster and Calumet College of St. Joseph graduate Mikey Kubacki Jr., adding to the chatter, Wheelhouse podcast focuses on historic Major League Baseball games, quirky stats and obscure players.

It’s buddies talking baseball with a sense of humor.

“We’re three goofy guys and we’re quirky,” says Tucker. “We try to be genuine.”

The first episode debuted Oct. 10 and was centered on Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle’s perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

Episode 2 is to be about the 10 worst contracts in MLB history.

Episode 3 will feature former Hammond Bishop Noll Institute and current minor league pitcher Matt Pobereyko. Episodes generally premier each Wednesday morning.

While his baseball playing days are done, Tucker still competes on the fast pitch wiffleball field. He plays for both the Griffleball League’s GasHouse Gorillas and in the Leroy Wiffle Ball Association.

Griffleball has been around for eight years and has seven teams playing on Sundays at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith. There is no base running. Wherever the ball lands determines the outcome of the at-bat.

Next year, the LWA is to have 14 teams and seven fields. Player do run the bases. If a team issues five balls to the opposing batter, they must lob the next ball in so there’s more offense.

Jim and wife Mysta Tucker have been married for a year and have two dogs.

JIMTUCKER2

Jim Tucker, a 2008 Calumet High School graduate, delivers a pitch for Chicago State University. He played baseball for the Cougars in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013. He is now head baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. (Chicago State Photo)

JIMTUCKER1

Jim Tucker is a teacher and baseball coach at Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School. The graduate of Calumet High School and Chicago State University is also a husband, blogger, podcaster and wiffleballer. The 2019 season will be his third as head coach of the Kouts Mustangs.

Advertisements

Year of maturity pays off for Mack’s Morgan Township Cherokees

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Going through a tough stretch at the end of the 2017 high school baseball season has paid off for the 2018 Morgan Township Cherokees.

In Cory Mack’s first season as head coach, he took over a program with just two returning varsity starters.

“The other boys were being educated with every game that we played,” says Mack.

Morgan got off to a 15-3 start before hitting a stretch of bigger schedules. Losing one-run games to Valparaiso, Hobart and John Glenn along the way, the IHSAA Class 1A Cherokees (about 250 students) lost nine straight and finished 15-12 in 2017. “It taxed my boys mentally.”

Having gone through that, Morgan did not experience that kind of skid this spring.

“There is maturity,” says Mack. “They know how to make those adjustments that are necessary to right the ship.”

The Cherokees beat Washington Township 8-0 Monday, May 28 to win the fourth sectional in program history (2004, 2012 and 2013 are the others) — avenging a 10-0 regular-season loss to the Senators — and take a 20-5 record into the Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

“(The loss to Washington Township) burned in the pit of their stomach,” says Mack, who admits to getting upset during that contest. “It may have fueled the fire for sectional.

“The guys could not have played a more fundamentally-sound game (in the rematch).”

Morgan meets Fremont at 11 a.m. EST Saturday, followed by Northfield vs. South Central (Union Mills). The regional final is slated for 7 p.m.

The Cherokees’ top pitchers are senior right-hander Colin Mack (the coach’s youngest son and an Indiana University South Bend commit), junior right-hander Hunter Swivel, senior righty Jeremy Landgrebe and senior lefty Tyler Bush. When not pitching, Mack is at shortstop, Swivel at third base, Landgrebe at second base and Bush sometimes plays first base.

Mack (the school’s all-time hits and stolen base leader), Swivel and senior center fielder Connor Malmquist (a Trine University soccer commit) are hitting above .400 and senior first baseman Colton Rosenbaum and junior catcher Cody Maxwell are over .350.

Morgan has plenty of speed and base-stealing threats.

“We force the issues to make things happen,” says Mack. “As long as we can put a guy on base, we can score without a hit.

“We make something happen when nothing is really working.”

Even though only two seniors are gong to the next level for athletics, most are college-bound.

“They’re all intelligent kids,” says Cory Mack. “Sometimes they think too much and don’t react enough.

“Athletes play off their gut and not their brain.”

Mack’s assistant coaches are Paul Lipski and son Tyler Mack.

The Valparaiso-Based Cherokees play in the Porter County Conference (along with Boone Grove, Hebron, Kouts, LaCrosse, South Central, Washington Township and Westville).

A 1991 LaCrosse graduate, Mack played four seasons of baseball for the Tigers. His head coach was Bill Drook. He spent a couple years in college before coming home to begin raising a family.

Cory and Michelle Mack have two boys. Seven years separate LaCrosse graduate Tyler Mack and Morgan senior Colin Mack.

The younger son has gained experience with a number of travel baseball organizations over the years, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects, Motor City Baseball Club Hit Dogs, Ironmen Baseball Club, Collier/DB A’s and Midwest Mayhem.

Many of his teammates and opponents are playing or have committed to play at the NCAA Division I level.

“I was trying to expose my son to as many conditions and as many different styles of teammates as I could,” says Mack. “Drop him in anywhere and you’re going to get the same performance.”

For his folks, it’s a chance to do something they really love — spend time together at the ballpark.

“We’re baseball junkies,” says Cory Mack. “We live for this stuff. For my wife and I, it’s like vacation. It’s fun to watch a kid who loves playing. We’ve been everywhere with this kid.

“It’’s been a blast.”

Colin Mack has played  multiple times at places like the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex and East Cobb. His club won a title in a 106-team tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park.

In all of his years of coaching and watching travel baseball, Cory Mack has witnessed too many younger kids throwing breaking balls.

“A lot of coaches letting kids throw curve balls way too soon,” says Mack, noting that the strain takes its tolls on arms, muscles and ligaments that are still developing. “Guys rely on a curveball before they can locate a fastball. The curveball is just putting miles on an engine. Every dad in the world needs to teach his kid to locate a fastball and throw a straight change.

“Kids always think the curve ball is sexy, but the only thing it does is slow the ball down. The change-up does the same thing.”

CORYMACKMORGANTWP18

Cory Mack (far right in top photo and far left in bottom photo) is in his second season as head baseball coach at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso. His Cherokees are in the IHSAA Class 1A Caston Regional Saturday, June 2.

MORGANTWPSECTIONALCHAMPS18

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.

Kruszka brings passion to South Central Satellites

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Some say that baseball is just a game.

Ryan Kruszka has a different take.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farley taught the mental side of the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RYANKRUSZKA

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

American Legion Baseball in Indiana experiences more boom than doom

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In a state teaming with travel teams, Indiana is keeping American Legion Baseball alive.

“It’s getting better,” says Indiana American Legion Baseball chairman and longtime Rockport Post 254 manager Owen Wells of the 19-U program. “We were in a slump for awhile.”

A decade ago, Legion ball fielded around 65 teams. When the money started moving away from American Legion Baseball and toward travel ball, the number of teams was cut in two.

“It used to be that it seemed the parents thought the more they spent, the better their kids were going to be,” says Wells. “Now, it seems they’re seeing that maybe that’s not true.

“They see a lot better competition than they do in high school or travel ball … You have to go by the rules or you don’t play American Legion ball. It’s as simple as that. We protect our kids, coaches, the program.”

With almost a half century in American Legion Baseball, Wells is quick to sing it’s praises.

“We have a structured program,” says Wells. “We have an eight-team state tournament. The best of that goes to the national regional tournament. The winner of that goes on the Shelby, N.C. for the World Series.

“Once you win your state tournament, national picks up all your fees — your travel, meals, hotel rooms. You get on a travel team and you can go to 10 World Series and each one of them costs parents X amount of dollars.”

Wells is proud of the organization of American Legion Baseball in Indiana. At the end of each season, officials meet to discuss things that went right and things that need to be changed.

“We don’t let things linger on,” says Wells.

American Legion Baseball has a code of sportsmanship: “I will keep the rules; Keep faith with my teammates; keep my temper; Keep myself fit; Keep a stout heart in defeat; Keep my pride under in victory; Keep a sound soul; A clean mind; and and healthy body.”

The 2016 ALB World Series drew well over 100,000 for five days and the last two games were broadcast live by ESPN. This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 10-15. As is tradition, the ALB World Series winner will be the guest of Major League Baseball for the second game of its World Series.

Wells notes that ALB also provides full-coverage insurance and requires background checks for its coaches. There is also now a pitch count rule — similar to the one now used by the IHSAA.

Players are also eligible to apply for a statewide scholarship.

There are on boundaries or restrictions when recruiting travel ball players. By rule, all ALB teams have to draw their players from high schools that do not exceed a total of 5,000 enrollment. Rockport tends to get its players from South Spencer and a number of other small schools in southern Indiana and the Owensboro, Ky., area.

The first Indiana ALB state champion (Indianapolis) was crowned in 1926. Branford Post 140 reigned as the second kings of Indiana Legion ball in 1928.

Ever since, a state champion has emerged. The 2016 state winner (Rockport Post 254) advanced to the 90th ALB World Series.

There was some coming and going in between seasons. Notably, there is no Muncie Post 19 Chiefs or Plymouth Post 27 Diamond Spyders squads this summer. Both are past state champions.

South Bend Post 50 was Indiana’s only American Legion World Series champion in 1977 and 40-year anniversary festivities are planned in July. But there will be no Post 50 unit on the field this season.

But there are new teams, including Region Legion Expos squads in northwest Indiana. Legion baseball is filling the gap left by the elimination of Little League’s Big League division (18-and-under) in Indiana.

The 2017 slated opened with 44 approved registrants (30 senior, 14 junior).

According to state commander Joe Kusiak, senior teams i(19-and-under) include Attica Post 52, Boonville Post 200, Brazil Clay County Post 2, Bristol Post 143, Cicero Post 341, Clinton Post 140, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Evansville Eugene Pate Post 265, Greene County Eagles, Highland Post 180, Jasper Post 147, Kokomo Post 6, Lafayette Post 11, Lake Village Post 375 Spartans, Liberty Post 122 Patriots, Madison Post 9, Mike Miller Post 94/37, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Princeton Post 25, Region Legion Expos 1, Region Legion Exposure Expos, Region Legion Expos 3, Rockport Post 254, Rockville Post 48, Seymour Post 89, South Bend Post 357, Sullivan Post 139, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94.

Junior clubs (age 17-and-under) are Boonville Post 200 Juniors, Crawfordsville Post 72, Evansville Funkhouser Post 8, Greene County Eagles, Jasonville Post 172, Kokomo Post 6, Newburgh Kapperman Post 44, Michigan City Post 37 Wolves, Region Legion Expos 4, Richmond Post 65, Rockport Post 254, Rockport Post 254 Cubs, Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346 and Valparaiso Post 94 Junior Vikings.

There will be no sectionals, but eight regionals leading to the eight-team state tournament in Terre Haute July 21-25 (Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo will serve as host sites). The state tournament rotates north and south above and below I-70. The 2016 event was staged in Kokomo.

Tim Hayes is in his second season of leading Terre Haute Post 346 after taking over for his brother John. In 31 seasons, John Hayes amassed a record of 930-390 with 28 sectionals, 12 regionals, seven state championships, one Great Lakes Regional title and three regional runner-up finishes. The 2006 team placed second at the ALB World Series.

The local aspect of Legion ball is attractive to Tim Hayes.

“You can still have competitive teams that are community-based in my opinion,” says Hayes, who draws his 2017 roster from Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South, West Vigo and Marshall, Ill. (one player) and plans to play 35-40 games with trips to Missouri and Tennessee. “There are still kids and parents out there that are believers. We’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been able to keep the largest percent of our A and B level players (Post 346 alums include big leaguers like Josh Phegley and A.J. Reed). Our program is rich in tradition. (Players) want to represent our community and our veterans. How long it will last is hard to say.”

A 501 (c) 3 organization raises money for the Post 346 program.

Dave Shinn is in his second year as manager of Mike Miller Post 34-97, a Michigan City-based team. His father, Al Shinn, was involved with ALB, Michiana Amateur Baseball League and Connie Mack Baseball League teams for decades and had played and managed in the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations. Al Shinn died in 2016.

The younger Shinn expects his team to play about 25 regular-season games (with no overnight trips) plus the postseason. He likes the quality of baseball and the pace.

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed the competition,” says Dave Shinn. “Five or six games in a weekend is too much baseball. You can’t learn that much when you’re playing that much.”

Post 34/97 draws its players from Michigan City, Marquette Catholic, LaPorte, Chesterton, Westville and South Central (Union Mills), plays home games at Marquette with about a dozen players active for each contest.

“We try to keep all the kids active,” says Shinn.

To raise money for Valparaiso Post 94, general manager Kusiak has sold commemorative Chicago Cubs World Series bats made by Valpo-based Hoosier Bat Co.

Bristol Post 143 manager Jim Treadway has brought his team back to Elkhart Central for home games after moving around Elkhart County for home fields. Like many Indiana ALB teams, Bristol has produced many players who went on to play college or pro baseball. Ryan Strausborger made his MLB debut in 2015.

OWENWELLSAMLEGION

Owen Wells is a longtime manager of Rockpost American Legion Post 254’s baseball team and is the Indiana baseball chairman. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Selective offensive approach helps Steinhilber’s Hebron Hawks

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Working the count” is working for Hebron High School baseball.

This offensive approach has been good to the Hawks the past four seasons and has been key as Hebron (29-3) has advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate opposite Wapahani (18-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.

A batter who is patient and trying to “get ahead in the count” or get a pitch he can hit hard is often said to “work the count” or “work the pitcher.”

Seventh-year Hebron head coach John Steinhilber and his assistants — Sean Riley (first base), Chris Wiltfang (bench), Jake Wheeler (pitching) and Tim Joyce (preseason and outfield) — have been selling and the players have been buying.

“They’ve bought into our overall approach to hitting,” says Steinhilber. “We battle in counts.

“We wait to strike.”

Steinhilber and company have looked on in admiration at the number of pitches that recent Boston Red Sox batters have seen per at-bat.

Why not try to make it work on the Hawks’ level?

“(The Red Sox) see a lot of pitches. They make the pitchers work,” says Steinhilber. “We’ve done that over the last four years and it’s really hurt us.

“Guys don’t feel like they’re behind the 8-ball when they get behind two strikes. Our guys really relax. It’s something we really work on.”

Steinhilber said it is likely that more and more teams will be adopting the approach in the coming years and working the pitcher, especially in light of the new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“You want to make that guy throw extra,” says Steinhilber. “Getting into the other team’s bullpen, especially in high school, is really key.”

The count has also got pitchers and their coaches thinking about their approach.

“Now you get a kid 0-2, do you put him away to save your pitch count or work him like you normally would?,” says Steinhilber. “It’s probably a struggle with all high school teams in all states. Kids in high school think they’ve got to strike everybody out. They don’t trust their defense.

“Pitching to your defense is going to help you in the long run.”

Hebron won its first baseball sectional crown in 1976. No. 2 came in Steinhilber’s second season of 2012. That was also the year the Hawks won their first regional title.

“I played a small part in that,” says Steinhilber. “I have a great staff and we’ve had really great kids come through.”

Hebron’s Kyle Joyce was an IHSBCA All-Star in 2013.

Steinhilber played baseball and basketball at Boone Grove High School, where he graduated in 1986. He played baseball at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., then coached the sport for three while finishing his degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.

Mike Moyzis was the Pumas head coach for a team that included Rick O’Dette, who just finished his 17th season as SJC head coach with the school and program closing up shop in 2017.

Steinhilber was an assistant for a few seasons with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean, the last in 1997 when the 59ers advanced to the championship game of the single-class semistate.

Basketball coaching called Steinhilber’s name and he was a head boys coach for 19 years, retiring at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. He worked six seasons at Calumet (1998-99 to 2003-04), six at South Central of Union Mills (2004-05 to 2009-10) and seven at Hebron (2010-11 to 2016-17) with sectional championships coming in his second seasons at both Calumet and Hebron.

Steinhilber is in his third year as Hawks athletic director, a position that gets especially crazy during the spring season.

“I have an athletic secretary (Susan Spurr) that is awesome,” says Steinhilber. “If I didn’t have her I’d be lost. I’ve also good pretty good coaches and a principal (Mark Lutze) that supports everything.”

The ’17 Hawks bested North Judson, North Newton and Boone Grove by a combined 32-1 to win the Boone Grove Sectional then earned 4-3 triumphs against Eastside and Hammond Bishop Noll to reign at the Whiting Regional.

Hebron and South Central both went 6-1 to tie for the regular-season title in the Porter County Conference, which generally played on Mondays and Fridays. The Hawks then bested the Satellites in the PCC tournament championship game played the day before the sectional opener.

Other members of the conference are Boone Grove, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.

To prepare for the turf at Kokomo, Steinhilber took his team to Lake Central for a practice. But the surface is not foreign to many of the Hawks.

“A lot of kids play travel and have played on turf,” says Steinhilber. “That’s a good thing for us.”

JOHNSTEINHILBER2

John Steinhilber, with wife Melissa, is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Hebron High School in Porter County. The Hawks play Wapahani in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.