JIM PETERS: LaPorte's baseball pride has taken a hit

2013-05-23T17:00:00Z JIM PETERS: LaPorte's baseball pride has taken a hitJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com

Schreiber Field remains a mecca for high school baseball, one of the best prep venues for the sport you can find.

But there's something different about LaPorte's iconic yard. The place former Portage coach Tom Levandoski called Dracula's castle, the place where teams used to be down several runs before they even stepped across the foul line, has lost its swagger.

"That's been gone for two years," Slicers coach Scott Upp said after Wednesday's 6-0 sectional loss to Crown Point. "When the draw came out, everybody wanted to play us. We haven't been in that situation before."

LaPorte limped to the finish line with a 10-20 record, unheard of these parts, where 20-10 once represented an average season.

At a glance, the reason is clear to see. The talent level isn't there. There's no Connor Podkul on the mound or Dustin DeMuth in the lineup, no presence. Upp pointed in particular to pitching, where he trotted out 11 kids to the bump this season.

"We were just trying to find people who can throw strikes," he said. "We're not missing people walking the hallways. The best baseball players are out here. Right now, we're just smaller. Overall, our strength is weaker than most. It's not from a lack of effort."

It happens. It's just shocking to see it happen to LaPorte baseball, much like it was when Hobart football had a backslide.

For Upp, the most troubling part isn't the physical ability, it's the mindset, something that will be addressed in the days and months ahead.

"The offseason's going to be interesting," he said. "They're going to be challenged like they've never been challenged. We're going to work more between the ears. We need to toughen up, get a more competitive approach."

Of LaPorte's seniors, only two played regularly, so most of the key people will be back. Upp plans to maintain close contact with the travel ball coaches of his underclassmen to make sure they're doing the right things, like running out ground balls and not peeling away halfway to first.

"It's tough enough to get beat," he said. "If we're going to get beat, at least it's going to be with good, hard-working kids...who aren't wondering what they're doing on the weekend."

Much like Hobart football back in the day, nobody's feeling sorry for the Slicers. Teams are more than happy to come on to their turf and hand them a loss, even if they're no longer one of the Duneland's big dogs.

While LaPorte may be down, it's certainly not out. That kind of tradition doesn't disappear this quickly. Upp's not about to let that happen. I can't imagine he's slept too well the last couple months. Not with his fire. He'll restore the pride in the L, or die trying.

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