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This Week in Sports - April 8-12, 2024

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April 11, 2024

Flaming flat stick launches Noah Bazil in opener

A talent-challenged golfer tends to believe the path to lower scores can be purchased at the store with an equipment upgrade.

Talent never has been an issue for Noah Bazil, one of the five players on Chesterton’s all-senior varsity squad, ranked No. 15 in the state and coming off a 15th-place finish at the state tournament in 2023.

Bazil tends to look at the archer, not the arrow, in search of solutions.

“My mom was telling me after every tournament, ‘You’re missing all these putts right, Noah, something’s wrong with your putter.’ I’m a strong believer in it’s the person, not the club,” Bazil said. “I kind of let it go over my head.”

And he continued to miss his putts right. Sometimes, mother really does know best.

“It finally got to the point I had to get it checked out,” Bazil said.

He paid a visit to his instructor, Sand Creek teaching professional and Valparaiso University women’s golf coach Jill McCoy.

“She said, ‘Hmm, I don’t think that putter’s very good for you,’” Bazil said of the Taylormade Spider he had been using. “So we tried a few different putters.”

Bazil lifted his Odyssey Double Wide putter off the practice green and said, “I tried this putter. I made 20 out of 20 with from about 5 feet. I just bought it on the spot. I just bought it a few weeks ago.”

No buyer’s remorse there. Bazil cashed in on so many up-and-down opportunities that he finished third, one stroke off the pace, at the season-opening Rochester Invitational won by teammate Bo Smith in a playoff against Rochester’s Noah Riffle. Smith shot a 77, Bazil a 78 and the Trojans won the tournament with a 317 team score, which is tabulated by adding the team’s top four scores together. Rochester placed second 336 strokes.

With the help of McCoy, and thanks to his mother’s insistence, Bazil identified the problem with his previous putter. It was too toe-heavy, he said, which was leaving his putts to the right of the cup.

The equipment switch is the latest in a series of adjustments Bazil has made to tame a game that he will take with him next year to Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, where he will play on the golf team.

A fullback and defensive end for his first three years of high school, Bazil stepped away from football to focus on golf for his final year. He very much has a thick, strong fullback look to him and he used to treat a golf ball on a tee the way he sought to treat quarterbacks when playing defensive end.

Funny thing about golf scorecards, though, they don’t have a column for macho points.

“I’ve been shortening my swing and swinging a little more smoothly instead of trying to crush the ball every time,” he said. “I’ve lost probably about 10 yards, but I’m hitting the ball the straightest I ever have. I have the most control I’ve had in years.”

If Bazil ever is tempted to shift back into moonshot mode, he should heed the example set by Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. In 1961, Koufax was having trouble finding home plate in a spring training game, so catcher Norm Sherry paid him a visit on the mound and suggested he not throw so hard and see if that doesn’t give him better control. The wild colt took the advice and just like that, he was on his way to becoming a Secretariat-level thoroughbred.

“It took me a while to learn it because I was always eager to hit the long ball, but 100 and in is all that matters,” Bazil said.

Still, when the joy of watching a drive whistling into the horizon must be so gratifying, it has to make it tempting.

“It’s tough knowing that you’re able to swing as hard as possible and send it out there, but whatever I can do to keep the score down, I’m going to do it,” he said.

Playing so many practice rounds with friends during the summer and fall and in season helps Bazil to stay relaxed, always the best state of mind for scoring low.

“I feel like our team’s as close as we’ve ever been,” Bazil said. “We all trust each other on the course, so we all know we can go out there and have some fun, trying to shoot some good scores.”

Bazil said one of his highlights Saturday was seeing assistant coach John Snyder back on the course. Complications from knee replacement surgery caused a longer than anticipated time away from school for Snyder, who has retired from coaching football but remains physical education department head and assistant boys golf coach at the high school.

“Really good to see Coach Snyder is back out here again,” Bazil said. “He kind of surprised me out on the course Saturday. He just showed up and I was like, ‘Wow, Coach Snyder showed up.”

Head coach Pat Ward tried to take the blame for Bazil carding a double bogey on his final hole, when as it turned out, a par would have made him the winner. Ward said he advised Bazil to go for it on his second shot from an awkward angle and the ball ended up in the water. Bazil wouldn’t hear it.

Paul Scott finished fourth with a 79 and Phil Scott and Joe Ennis each shot an 83.

The Trojans play Saturday in the Marquette Invitational at Michigan City Municipal.

Parrish, Sims might follow ex-Marian coach to UIndy

The aftershock of a men’s basketball coaching shakeup involving Indianapolis colleges from the NAIA, NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II levels could be felt all the way to Chesterton.

The first domino fell when Division I IUPUI fired coach Matt Crenshaw in the first week of March. The next toppled a few weeks later when IUPUI hired Division II UIndy coach Paul Corsaro to replace Crenshaw. The final one dropped last week when UIndy hired Marian University coach Scott Heady to replace him.

So, at the moment, Chesterton seniors Tyler Parrish and Justin Sims are committed to Marian, a school without a head coach. The joint signing ceremony press conference that had been scheduled for Tuesday, April 9, was canceled.

The good news: The shakeup increased the options for both Parrish and Sims. Heady called both of them to break the news to them and to let them know that he would like them to join him at UIndy as scholarship basketball players.

Meanwhile, Winston Yergler, the assistant coach who recruited Parrish and Sims to Marian, has applied for the vacancy and is hoping the two Trojans stay put.

Each player has scheduled a campus visit to UIndy, the Division II school where their former former basketball teammate Chris Mullen is on the depth chart at quarterback and their current strength and conditioning coach, Matt Wagner, worked for a decade.

“It happens,” Parrish said of the news. “That’s the business.”

UIndy competes in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, Marian in the Crossroads League.

Depending on the conferences involved, moving from an NAIA league to one in the NCAA Division II can be a big step up, a lateral move, or somewhere in between.

“Probably the physicality,” Sims said of the biggest difference between the Great Lakes Valley and the Crossroads. “D2 is more physical. I think they’re both really good conferences.”

Said Parrish: “In D2, they’re definitely more athletic, bigger guys. Competitionwise and skill-wise, I feel like it’s all the same.”

Chesterton coach Marc Urban sees his role in the recruitment of the two seniors as one of gathering as much information as possible.

“The biggest thing is just getting down and seeing the campus,” Urban said “You don’t want to go anyplace you haven’t seen. I think once they see it, the decision is going to be pretty clear for them. They already know Heady, they’re familiar with him, you’ve got Chris Mullen down there, Wags has worked at UIndy, so you have a lot of people that you can gather information from. It’s just see it one time, figure out what the best decision is for you. What’s going to help you the next four years to start your life off debt-free with a good college experience.”

Parrish and Sims both said they likely will end up choosing the same school. At this point, UIndy shapes up as the favorite, which puts an even bigger premium on getting stronger for both athletes.

“Both of them, no matter where they go, they have to continue to get strong in the weight room and they have to put a lot of weight on,” Urban said. “The season’s long and when you’re not as strong as the other guys it makes competing a little bit more difficult. They have to make sure they focus on being college ready in these next months, getting ready to go down to wherever they go.”

CHS softball coach Dan Lynch retiring at end of school year

Chesterton head softball coach/biology teacher Dan Lynch already had one big life change this year, getting married, and has decided another big one will be coming soon.

Lynch, 59, has informed his bosses that he will be retiring from teaching and coaching at the end of this school year after 31 years of employment at the high school.

Lynch said that he and wife Sandy plan to move to a warmer climate and tentatively plan to look first in Foley, Alabama. They also might consider a Texas town where Sandy’s brother lives, Lynch said.

“Basically, right after school is over, we’re going to load up the truck and the dog and see what’s down in Foley,” Lynch said, referencing their 2-1/2-year-old German Shephard, Kai.

He said he is prepared to end his teaching career and will look for employment in another field after moving.

Lynch in his 20th season coaching softball at Chesterton, the first 14 spent as an assistant to the late LouAnn Hopson.

In 2022, Lynch missed all the preseason practices and the first six games while undergoing treatments for throat cancer.

He reports that he is in good health.

“They haven’t found anything else,” he said. “Getting older and going through the cancer, in the wintertime I get cold more easily now.”

In addition to coaching softball at Chesterton, Lynch coached football, the first year as an assistant in the early ’90s to then freshman football coach Wally McCormack, the Chesterton varsity’s current defensive coordinator.

“I will totally miss coaching,” Lynch said. “I will totally miss the softball aspect of it. I love the game. I think it’s a great game. It’s exciting all the time. It’s a fast game. Coaching the girls, it’s always a fun time. They always make me laugh.”

It beats crying, which a weaker man might do in the face of some of this season’s results.

The Trojans dropped to 3-7 on the season after Tuesday’s home 15-0 loss to Lake Central in five innings. Still, Lynch remains bullish on the future of Chesterton softball.

“Whoever takes over for me, they’re going to have a good core of girls playing,” he said. “The freshmen are pretty athletic, and with that they have a lot of potential coming up. And I hear there are some good eighth graders coming up who are pretty good.”

Uprooting and moving to a new community with no jobs waiting for them might seem adventurous to some, but if it is, that doesn’t mean it’s out of character for Lynch.

“When I was younger, I spent nine summers up in Alaska commercial fishing,” Lynch said. “I used to do things a little adventurous, and then I got here and settled down.”

Soon, the coach will be on the move after a 31-year settlement.

“We’ll be gypsies for a while, heading down and seeing what’s down there and then we’ll decide,” he said. “No set plan.”

The plan calls for Chesterton to post the teaching and coaching jobs swiftly. As always, Chesterton will look first to fill the coaching vacancy with a teacher.

April 9, 2023

Slow softball start doesn’t sink captain’s spirits

Life got in the way of their love for softball, so one by one, members of the Chesterton High Class of 2024 gave up the sport and left Aubrey Ciupak all by her lonesome to show the way.

And as mistakes of youth break out all around her in the way of hurried throws, dropped popups and most frustrating of all, running into outs trying to take the extra base late in games when way behind, Ciupak doesn’t let it all knock the smile off her face.

She knows that as captain, she has to set the right example and sulking would be doing just the opposite.

Ciupak singled twice, walked and was not retired once in a 9-2 loss at LaPorte, but was never driven home.

Sophomore Hannah Florian, Chesterton’s starting pitcher, allowed four runs in the first two innings and not a single one of them was earned. She deserved a better fate.

“Hannah, she knows what she’s doing,” Ciupak said. “She knows what she needs to do. It’s just hard that sometimes we don’t have her back. It’s really hard.”

One error seems to lead to an outbreak of them.

“I have to I have to tell these girls it’s OK when you make a mistake, you just have to know how to move on from it. You have to know how to pick yourself back up and then move onto the next play so that you do make that next play,” Ciupak said. “So it’s really hard to have those girls move out of their heads.”

Ciupak practiced what she preached when she misplayed a ball hit in front of her.

“I totally fell in the outfield trying to dive for that ball, but I picked myself right back up because I knew I had to make that next play,” she said. “I couldn’t dwell on that one, I had to make sure I was good for that next one.”

LaPorte had six seniors on the roster and one of them was left-handed pitcher Marcy Bearickx. She struck out 10 batters, doubled twice to center and slammed a home run over the fence in right-center. Chesterton couldn’t turn seven hits and three walks into more than two runs because clutch hits were in short supply.

In at least one case, bad luck had a hand in that. Pinch-hitting with two runners on and two outs in the sixth inning, junior Aubree Bergner seared a flyball that could have cleared the bases had it hooked just a little more but it stayed within the center fielder’s reach for the third out.

“I thought we should have hit a little better,” Trojans coach Dan Lynch said. “She got them mixed up and was able to get the strikeouts. Caught us a couple of times looking and other times got us swinging, sometimes at bad pitches. That’s what was frustrating.”

Probably not as frustrating as a baserunner trying to stretch a double into a triple down seven runs to make the second-last out.

“I put the stop sign up a little late, but you should be able to see that and get back,” Lynch said. “I think some of them are trying to make a play, but they have to realize one play isn’t what we need at that time. We need multiple plays.”

Despite the frustrating errors, physical and mental, Lynch sees enough talent to believe better days are ahead. For one thing, better weather for a long enough stretch to string outdoor practices together tends to lead to better defense because a gymnasium or a fieldhouse is a lousy place to try to become a better fielder.

“There is still hope on this team,” Lynch said. “There is a lot of energy and they know they are a better team than what we are performing. We just need to get the right girls in the right position.”

And in the right mindset.

“When they get in their heads, they’re not having fun, so I have to tell them to get out of their heads so they can have fun because this game is really 90% mental,” Ciupak said. “So once you get out of your head, you’re good.”

The Trojans followed the LaPorte game with weekend losses to Avon, 14-4, and Pendleton Heights, 11-0 to drop to 2-6 on the season.

Czarniecki shines on the mound in loss at Valpo

He’s a decathlete in a baseball cap. Built like a weight thrower. Runs like a sprinter. Strong and graceful, at once intense and loose.

As a freshman, Rob Czaraniecki was the Chesterton varsity baseball team’s catcher. After a shaky first game, he quickly looked like a catcher, not like a baseball player trying to learn how to catch.

Now he’s the Trojans’ center fielder and doesn’t look like a catcher miscast as an outfielder. He looks like an outfielder, gets good jumps on flyballs, goes back gracefully on balls, charges hits in front of him aggressively and consistently throws accurate lasers back into the infield.

He always looks like a hitter and didn’t have to wait beyond the first pitch thrown to him this season for an omen that this will be a good year at the plate.

Czarniekcki blasted the first pitch he saw off the scoreboard beyond the left-field fence in a season-opening loss at Hamilton Southeastern.

Might as well immediately squash any fears of a sophomore slump.

On Saturday at Valparaiso, in the finale of a two-game series that opened Tuesday, Czarniecki showed that he’s more than a hitter and an outfielder. He’s a pitcher, too. Not just a thrower, a pitcher. His stuff needs a little polishing but that can be said of most sophomores in high school.

In relief of Caysen Bontrager, Czarniecki allowed eight baserunners in 4-2/3 innings and not one of them scored because when he needed a big strikeout, he delivered one.

Featuring mostly a fastball and a splitfingered fastball as his strikeout pitch, the hard-throwing Czarniecki allowed three hits and five walks and struck out eight. At the plate, he added a pair of singles, one that drove in a run. He hits the ball hard. Really, really hard.

It wasn’t enough to swing the outcome in Chesterton’s favor and the Trojans lost, 8-5, in a game they trailed 8-1 after two innings. But it enabled the team to take away an encouraging feel from a loss to its biggest rival.

Lost a game and found a pitcher?

“We knew we had him,” first-year Chesterton coach John Bogner said. “He’s going to be really good. He’s got minor mechanical things we can fix, and develop a little bit more of a curveball to him. He’s just an athlete.”

Bogner said that Czarniecki has “started flirting with a 12-to-6 curveball. It’s pretty good, and it’s going to get a lot better.”

Czarniecki pitched 5-1/3 innings during his freshman season, a total he nearly eclipsed in his season debut, which came against a team stocked with several summer teammates.

“I think it definitely amps me up to want to throw harder and blow it by them,” Czarniecki said of facing his friendly rivals.

Nate Brumfield and Caden Cromwell are among his summer teammates on the Bulls.

Czarniecki entered with a runner on second and faced Brumfield first. He hummed a fastball to the bullseye of the strike zone and Brumfield lined it into center to plate the runner.

“Left a fastball middle, middle,” Czarniecki lamented.

Crowell had a pair of hits vs. Bontrager and walked in his first at bat against Czarniecki, who won the final battle by striking him out.

“It felt good. It felt good,” Czarniecki said. “He got me last year during sectionals, so I wanted to get him back for one, so it felt good.”

If he can polish his pitches, Czarniecki has a chance to help the Trojans either as a starting pitcher or a closer.

Thus far, fellow sophomore Troy Barrett, a left-hander who pitched a complete game two-hit shutout against Boone Grove, has been the most impressive pitcher for the Trojans (1-4).

His shortstop brother, Brayden, coming off a strong junior season on the mound, also has pitched a complete game. Kaden Hawksworth also started a game, so first-year coach John Bogner will have no shortage of options from which to choose starting pitchers once the upcoming softer portion of the DAC schedule (Merrillville, then Michigan City) passes.

Whatever pitching role he finds for Czarniecki will be fine with the sophomore.

“I’ve always been able to pitch,” he said. “I’ve just always been surrounded by other people who are better at pitching than me.”

He need not worry about finding himself surrounded by enough people who hit better than he does to deny him a spot in the box. That’s not going to happen.

Czarniecki leads the team with a .438 batting average and is slugging .812 with a 1.312 OPS.

So far, the accuracy of that first pitch in the season-opener as an omen can’t be challenged.

“I had never done anything like it,” he said of homering in his first at bat. “He threw me one right there and I just swung at it. I didn’t think it was out. I didn’t think it was high enough, but it was just a straight line drive right off the scoreboard. It was pretty cool. It was a pretty good shot. I normally hit one a year.”

Nobody will be surprised if he hits another one soon.

“I’m not going to go for it, but if it happens, it happens,” he said. “I was just trying to hit a line drive up the middle. He threw me one and I smoked it.”

Joe Sandrick rising fast in the pole vault

The idea behind posting school records prominently involves more than honoring past greats, although that is a big part of it.

Keeping the records forever in sight also serves the purpose of motivating today’s athletes.

For example, nobody needs to tell Chesterton High junior Joe Sandrick that the school record in the pole vault, set by Justin Zosso in 2012, is 15 feet, 7 inches. Zosso went on to shatter the Valparaiso University school record.

Sandrick remains a long way from catching Zosso, but he’s not nearly as far away as he was just two years ago.

Sandrick enters Tuesday’s dual meet at Valpraiso High with a career-best of 13-6, achieved during this past winter season. He already has added a foot since the end of last spring season. And he’s 4 feet higher than his best vault of the 2022 season.

“I was pretty bad freshman year,” Sandrick said. “You just have to keep going.”

He kept going and going and going. Now he’s downright serious about it. During the summer, Sandrick drove more than an hour each way to Joliet, Illinois to “Rise Pole Vault” for instruction. Adding a foot just in the indoor season makes it obvious he was paying attention to the pointers.

“I fixed a lot of my form from last year,” Sandrick said. “A lot of good coaching, so I’m thankful for that.”

He said his goal for this spring is 15 feet, setting the stage for what he hopes is a record-breaking senior season.

“The goal for next year is 16,” he said. “If I can get 15 this year, I can definitely get 16 next year, at least I hope.”

Sandrick summed up the athletic traits needed to perform well in the pole vault in one word: “Everything.”

“Speed is like 75% of the event,” he said. “You have to have speed because the more energy going into the pole the more has to come out to boost you up. And core strength and upper body strength. Arm strength for sure. When you go up, you have to move the pole down so it bends quicker, so arm strength for sure.”

And body control. You have to know where your body is and when to get it from here to there.

“Right now the top of my turn is what I’m working on the most,” Sandrick said. “The weakest part of my vault would be my turn. It’s a little late.”

Then he explained when and how to execute the turn.

“When you’re upside down, you have to turn toward the bar,” he said. “You put your right leg over your left and go up your shoulder and your whole body will turn. I’m still getting used to it because the higher you go, the weirder it feels, at least for me.”

Getting used to all the aspects that feel strange about the event plays a role in it having such appeal to those who get hooked on vaulting.

When coach Bryan Nallenweg said he needed pole vaulters two years ago, Sandrick put his hand up right away.

“I said, ‘All right, I’ll do it. It looks fun.’ Something new. I played the same sports my whole life. I think that’s why I love it so much. It’s something new,” Sandrick said. “It’s so different from everything other sport.”

Chesterton also has solid depth behind Sandrick in the event. Pole vault coach Tom Wisch is encouraged by the strides senior Alex Drewes and sophomore Maddox McKinney have made this season.

Junior Leo Zairis and sophomores Patrick Mochen and Gus Wisch, the coach’s son, also had encouraging winters.

AJ Brandon already held in high regard

It was as though a gift fell out of the sky and landed in the middle of Chesterton High’s boys track and field team and then bounced higher into the sky more quickly than anybody would have had reason to believe.

A junior in high school never trying to clear a high jump bar, not even messing around with friends, giving it a shot, and clearing 6 feet, 4 inches in his second meet? That simply doesn’t happen. Except it did.

AJ Brandon, a basketball player his first two years of high school, will jump in an outdoor meet for the first time Tuesday at Valparaiso, while the girls dual with the Vikings is taking place at Chesterton.

“Things just weren’t working out,” Brandon said of basketball. “I just figured I’d go out for track. My dad had mentioned something and so did my friends: ‘You jump pretty high. You should try high jump.’ I’ve always had some hops, so I figured I would go out and try it.”

He said he first showed up for a voluntary practice in November.

“It was strange trying to get all the movements down,” Brandon said. “I wasn’t sure even where to start, but my coaches helped me and I got there. I’m still trying to learn everything, but it came pretty easy to me.”

So much so that he hasn’t set any limits on himself. Matt Nover holds the school record with a 6-10 because his 7-foot indoor jump didn’t count as official because of the makeshift venue.

Brandon said it’s his goal before leaving Chesterton to “at least tie” the official school record.

“My goal this season is to hit the 6-6 mark, 6-8 maybe,” Brandon said.

He said he was able to clear 5-8 right off the bat.

“And then I hit 6-2 at practice one day and I said, ‘This is for real,’” Brandon said.

By then, had become comfortable with the fundamentals.

“I got the arc down, the kick,” he said. “You have to kick your legs when you get over the bar because when you have that much arc to get over the bar your legs are going to hit it if you don’t kick them. So you’ve got to kick them up, so you fall back onto your back so you don’t knock the bar down.”

The right time to kick?

“Right when you feel your lower back go over the bar: ‘OK, it’s time to kick my legs up so I don’t hit the back of my legs on the bar,’” he said.

Failing to get credit for the height isn’t the only factor that motivates Brandon to kick his legs high.

“It’s not pleasant hitting the bar,” Brandon said.

Senior Armani Rodriguez can appreciate perhaps as well as anyone what Brandon already has accomplished because he too is new to the event and knows just how difficult it can be to master the technique.

“He’s great,” Rodriguez said. “He’s got crazy bounce. Perfecting the technique and everything is the hardest. You want to have the perfect form to get over the bar. That matters the most out of everything. You can have the bounce and everything, but I know he’s put everything together to get to where he’s at, especially with his height and his form.”

Brandon stands 6-4, so that helps too.

If Brandon can continue to improve and senior Conrad Dyrkacz can regain the form that enabled him to qualify for the regionals last spring with a 6-foot jump at the Portage sectional, the Trojans can pile up the points in the event.

“My goal is to get better,” Brandon said. “If I can make outdoor state, I’d love to do that because it was fun going to indoor state.”

Chesterton high jump coach Phil Long said it didn’t take him long to figure out he had something special in Brandon.

“The first day,” Long said. “We’ve always known if we could get basketball kids out, they have that jumping ability. Justin Sims, are you kidding me?”

Count the ways Sims could help a track team: as a high jumper, a long jumper, running the 200 meters, the 400 meters, the hurdles.

Sims isn’t out for track, so that’s all fantasy talk. Brandon is out for track, and Long and head coach Bryan Nallenweg are counting their blessings.