Tag Archives: Zac Mishler

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)

Mishler brothers always had baseball coaching in their blood

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Get the Mishlers — father Joel and sons Nic and Zac — together and the conversation turns to the same topic.

“It’s always baseball,” says Nic Mishler. “It drives my mom (Kim) and sister (Hannah) nuts when we are at home.

“We grew up in a college baseball dugout. We live baseball. That’s our family.”

Joel Mishler played and coached college baseball and his boys grew up around the game.

When the elder Mishler established JNZ Baseball and Softball Academy in Shipshewana, Ind., after his days at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Nic and Zac were always around.

They were working on their own skills, but they were also helping others. The brothers got to work with future Ball State University players Matt Eppers, Nick Floyd and Caleb Stayton and Northwestern Oklahoma State University lefty slugger Judah Zickafoose when they were youngsters and pick the brain of major league hitting coach and frequent visiting clinician John Mallee and former University of Michigan and current Ball State head coach Rich Maloney at his camps in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After Glen Oaks, Joel Mishler was head coach at Westview High School near Shipshewana and established the Indiana Chargers travel organization. The Chargers now train in Goshen, Ind., and has helped several players move on to college baseball.

Nic Mishler (Class of 2009) and Zac Mishler (Class of 2011) both played at Westview and became college players — Nic at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., and Zac at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., and then Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

What did the Mishler brothers do after their playing days?

Become baseball coaches, of course.

Nic Mishler, 27, has just begun as pitching coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa, after five seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. Before that, he was a student assistant for two years at his father’s alma mater, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Zac Mishler, 25, is heading into his third season as hitting/infield coach and recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va. Before landing at ABU, he was at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., where he was in charge of infield play, base running, and recruiting and scheduling.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” says Zac Mishler of baseball coaching. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid.”

Nic Mishler pitched in the Division II Junior College World Series while at Kellogg and appreciates the world of juco baseball.

“To me, what makes junior college so attractive is you are able to recruit very talented players who could use a couple years to get bigger and stronger and develop their craft.

“I want them to know what it means to dogpile. It’s something you never forget. They can work toward a World Series (the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association D-II Championship is in Enid, Okla.) before moving on to the next level.”

Since junior colleges are two-year institutions and athletes are aiming for four-year schools or the professional ranks, Nic sees the spark in all of them.

“The drive is second to none,” says Nic Mishler. “They’re all fighting for something.

“These are guys who may have been looked over and have a chip on their shoulder.

“I get to help these guys reach their goals. To me, that’s really exciting.”

With this common bond, Nic has witnessed close relationships forming among juco.

“Some of my best friends are from when I was at Kellogg,” says Nic Mishler. “We’re a real close group.”

After working at NCAA Division I Valparaiso, Zac returns to Division II at Alderson Broaddus.

“I really do like D-II baseball,” says Zac Mishler. “There’s a ton of talent and it’s very, very competitive.

“We get a lot of kids who are athletic and just want to chance to play.”

Zac also appreciates that he gets a chance to spend time on teaching and development, passing along the things he’s learned in time as a player and coach.

Jerry Halstead (John A. Logan) and Bobby Pierce (IPFW) were Zac’s head coaches while he was a college player and he coached with Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s before joining the staff of Matt Yurish at ABU.

“(Halstead) taught me a toughness I never knew I had in me,” says Zac Mishler. “(Pierce) taught me more than anybody how to be the same person everyday and how to stay consistent.

“It’s something I try to do in life. He had a big influence on me.”

Yurish has passed along lessons on communication and motivation.

“You get out and meet people and make a good name for yourself,” says Zac Mishler. “And you have to know how how to handle different types of people.

“A common misconception is that everybody needs to be coached the same. You want to tap into each kid and see what makes him tick.

“Coaching is getting people to play at the best of their abilities.”

After playing for Eric Laskovy at Kellogg, Nic and soaked up wisdom from Andy Stankiewicz at Grand Canyon and Brian Schmack at Valpo U. His boss at DMACC is David Pearson.

“(Stankiewicz) gave me my shot at coaching,” says Nic Mishler. “I can’t thank him enough.”

He worked with the Antelopes pitching staff and served as bullpen coach for a team that went to the NCAA Division II World Series. A member of the GCU staff — Nathan Choate — is now an assistant at NCAA Division I Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

One summer, Nic was pitching coach and also worked with infielders and outfielders for the East Texas Pump Jacks in the Texas Collegiate League.

Nic led Valpo catchers and helped Schmack with the pitching staff. He was the catching coach for three-year starter Scott Kapers, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Mishler also got to help Trey Ferketic, who found his way from California to pitch in the Midwest for the Crusaders.

“I was in a pretty good situation at Valparaiso,” says Nic Mishler. “They have something good going.

“I have full control over a pitching staff here. This offered me a real good opportunity.”

Pearson — with his NCAA Division I background (he was associate head coach at North Dakota State University) and high energy — also drew Nic.

“I’m a high-energy guy,” says Nic Mishler. “I’m so excited to get to go to work for him everyday.”

Nic and Zac communicate just about everyday by call or text and often speak with their father. Now that Nic is at a junior college, he can recruit Zac’s players and has already had a few conversations.

“It’s cool for me to watch (Zac) chase his dream,” says Nic Mishler. “He works extremely hard. That motivates me to work hard as well.”

DMACC is scheduled to play about a dozen games this fall and was at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., recently for the Prep Baseball Report juco event.

Zac says he was attracted to coaching in because he can work with players throughout the year.

“It’s different mentality (than high school),” says Zac Mishler.

Looking down the line, Zac could see himself as a head coach or an assistant to his big brother.

What if Zac becomes a head coach first?

“(Nic) will be my first call,” says Zac Mishler.

NICMISHLER

Nic Mishler, a 2009 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa.

ZACMISHLER

Zac Mishler, a 2011 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va.