2024, Varsity Baseball | July 7, 2024

The Times 2024 Coach of the Year: Mike Swartzentruber is ‘blessed’ to coach talented players

nwitimes.com – Grace Opinker

ST. JOHN — When six starters graduated from Lake Central’s baseball team last summer, head coach Mike Swartzentruber knew he would have to be creative with his incoming group of players.

“We were going to have to change how we played,” he said.

The Indians couldn’t rely on someone to knock a three-run homer out of the park, or hit a bases-clearing double. The players would have to be more aggressive on the base paths and LC would have to step up its pitching game.

Swartzentruber knew in March his team had some of the main pieces to be the next state champions. If things went right, he was confident his team would play on June 15 at Victory Field. If things went wrong, it would be another missed opportunity.

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Although critics across the Region and the state doubted Lake Central’s potential, the Indians (25-9) secured their first Class 4A state title since 2012. Swartzentruber’s creativity and passion toward his team helped him earn The Times Coach of the Year award.

“I don’t really have a big circle of people I surround myself with, but the people who know me the best up here will tell you that while I’m not from here, there can’t be someone who bleeds blue anymore than me,” he said. “I’m all in.”

Swartzentruber grew up in southern Indiana and attended Washington High School where he was a three-sport athlete. After graduating in 1990, he studied business education and played baseball at Oakland City University, a Division II school in Oakland City, Indiana.

After college, Swartzentruber began his teaching and coaching career at North Posey High School, a 2A school northwest of Evansville. In his fourth year at the helm, Swartzentruber led North Posey’s baseball team to the state finals in 2000. His team returned to the finals winning back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006.

With two state titles under his belt, Swartzentruber was seeking his next opportunity to duplicate his success. In 2009 he began coaching at Martinsville High School. After seven years of trying to turn the program around, Swartzentruber stepped down from the head coaching position at Martinsville in 2015.

He took the following year off from coaching to decide what his next step would be. Heading into the 2016-17 schoolyear, Swartzentruber learned about a business opening and head coaching position available at Lake Central. 

After discussing the opportunity with his wife Misty, and two children, Griffen and Ryan, the family of four decided Northwest Indiana would be their next home base.

“I was fortunate Lake Central took a chance on me. We’ve done some good things. It’s been awesome,” he said. “I still don’t think I’ve got this figured out, but I’ve been fortunate that this is my last stop.”

In his 27-year career, Swartzentruber has a 479-261 record. He has an 170-50 record in his past eight seasons at Lake Central.

He is also the first coach in the state to lead two different schools to IHSAA baseball state championships.

“It means a few things to me, mainly it means I’ve been blessed to coach a lot of good players,” he said. “I’ve had three stops in my coaching career, and two of the three I’ve been blessed to have great talent.”

Swartzentruber said he frequently reflects on the phrase, “it’s not the Xs and Os, it’s the Jimmys and the Joes to cover up short comings.” Luckily for Swartzentruber, he’s coached a handful of Jimmys and Joes who have helped lead his teams to success.

This past season, the Indians’ two biggest losses were by four runs. As long as the Indians could score at least three runs per game, Swartzentruber knew his top two pitchers, Griffin Tobias and Blake Sivak, could carry the defense. 

The aggression on offense also paid off for the Indians who had close to 100 stolen bases as a team. Outfielder Nick Robinson led the team with 38. Swartzentruber noted being proud of this offensive stat because LC doesn’t have many “cupcake” games on the schedule. 

“We just found a way,” Swartzentruber said. “From year-to-year coaches have to be flexible. They have to know their personnel and adapt. Being flexible is something I’ve done pretty well.”

Swartzentruber has led LC to four DAC titles, six sectionals, two regionals, one semistate and one state title. With the loss of nine seniors, Swartzentruber said the next year’s team will have to put themselves in the position to do it again.

“I’m not a Region guy by birth, but I’ve put in the time and effort that I’m an LC guy — 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” he said. “It means a lot to me. I take this job very seriously because it’s one of the best three or four jobs of this kind in the state.”

Swartzentruber expressed gratitude toward his family who’ve always supported him with all the hours he’s spent away from home. He also praised the administration for taking a chance on him, and his assistant coaches for having the same passion and vision he looks for. Whether it’s the community support to the facilities his team gets to utilize, nothing goes unnoticed, Swartzentruber said.

“It’s a team effort that something like this has happened,” he said. “I’m looking forward to what the future brings too.”

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