2024, Varsity Baseball | June 21, 2024

Griffin Tobias, ‘super strong’ for Lake Central in playoffs, is the 2024 Post-Tribune Baseball Player of the Year

By MICHAEL OSIPOFF | mosipoff@post-trib.com | Post-Tribune

The plan came together almost perfectly for Lake Central senior Griffin Tobias.

Feeling strong at the end of the season, the star right-hander propelled the Indians to the Class 4A state championship that had eluded the program since its first title in 2012.

“It’s kind of the culmination of a great four-year career at Lake Central,” coach Mike Swartzentruber said. “If you could write a storybook ending for a kid that deserves a storybook ending, it would be him.”

Tobias, the 2024 Post-Tribune Baseball Player of the Year, finished the season with a 7-2 record, a 0.95 ERA, 98 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 66 1/3 innings. The Indiana recruit also hit .308 with a homer, 22 RBIs and 21 runs scored.

“I have three four-year letter winners in this group with (Brenden) Smith, (Blake) Sivak and Tobias, and Griff was the one who started for us from day one,” Swartzentruber said. “He’s been as good of a player as I’ve ever coached when you factor in what he could do defensively, what he could offensively and on the mound.

“The reason why it’s a fitting ending for him, he’s such a great kid. No ego. One of the hardest workers you have in your program, if not the hardest. All the intangible stuff is there with him. Players enjoy him, great teammate. Coaches love him. He’s just a great representation in all aspects of our program. The way it played out, it couldn’t have happened to a better kid.”

Indeed, after experiencing gut-wrenching postseason losses earlier in his career, Tobias yearned for a breakthrough and prepared for it. He got bigger, stronger and better conditioned.

“My training went up a level,” he said. “I took it as a professional environment. I wanted to win. I was tired of losing in the postseason, and I wanted to make a change, so I had to change something. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to change my training. We’re going to be better in the weight room. We’re going to be better on the mound. Get smarter on what we do. Learn how to pitch better.’ It’s everything.

“Even my support staff behind me. My parents. Going in to get a lot of soft tissue work with my aunt — she massages me, gets all the knots out, stretches me. My chiropractor has been a big part of my success the past couple of years, keeping me healthy and making sure I’m still able to throw the baseball.”

Swartzentruber saw that diligence from Tobias, who went 6-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 15 walks in 51 1/3 innings last season, his first as Lake Central’s ace.

“He dedicated himself to make sure he was stronger, especially as we got later in the year when he was still throwing his best, and we did a pretty good job of holding him back a little bit until the end,” Swartzentruber said. “He dedicated himself to getting stronger, putting things together where he was at his strongest at the end of the year. Obviously from what we saw in the state tournament, that was definitely the case.

“That’s a testament to him, that he has the awareness of what’s going on. He’s a very intelligent baseball player. He has one of the highest baseball IQs of anybody I’ve coached. So for him to know that, for him to put the time in to do that with the big picture in mind for the end of the year, that tells you what kind of kid he is. The effort and time he put in to build himself up to be ready to go at the end of the year paid dividends.”

The Indians, including Tobias, drew motivation from their 7-6 loss in a semistate semifinal to eventual state champion Penn last season.

“He felt like he let us down last year, and obviously that was the furthest thing from what happened, losing against Penn in the semistate,” Swartzentruber said. “It was just one of those games, a one-run game, we didn’t find a way to win. It was very similar in some respects to the state final game. Obviously the score was different, but those games can go either way. We were fortunate enough to be on the right end of it this year, and last year we weren’t.

“He was probably — and this is my fault, not his — a little gassed at the end of last year. He was disappointed with how it ended. If he takes a loss on the mound or doesn’t do this or that, he puts everything on his shoulders, which he shouldn’t do. I do the same thing as a coach. I always deflect the blame to me if something doesn’t go right because ultimately I’m the guy that puts the team together.”

If Tobias focused on being at his best when Lake Central needed him most, he delivered. He posted a 0.72 ERA in 29 ⅓ innings over four postseason starts, allowing 17 hits and six walks while striking out 40.

“Last year, I was not at my best in the postseason, where this year we took kind of a different approach with my pitch count, working me in to the deeper innings,” he said. “The cold affects everything. The cold affects your body. It’s hard to recover, it’s slower.

“So this year we really worked on my pitch count, working up. We started in Tennessee. I only went three innings, 40 pitches. Then we gradually built 10 a week where we got up to the 70s, 80s. Then in the postseason, I felt super healthy, super strong. We were all ramped up. We were ready to go. By that time, I could go the full distance.”

And then some, as Tobias showed against Mooresville.

“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve been looking at highlights and rewatching some of it. It’s pretty surreal. It’s pretty awesome.

“You can’t really accomplish anything without your teammates. You have to have guys behind you to back you up. Your defense has to make plays for you. You have to put runs on the board to win. It’s an overall team effort that got us where we are.”

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