By Jim Masters
The Lake County Corn Dogs have many of their key players back as they get set to defend their 2022 Northern League championship — and best a 35-11 regular season record.
The returning players are: catcher Ranko Stevanovic (Chicago, IL), infielders Tyler Schultz (Hobart, IN; Purdue University Northwest), Danny Puplava (Portage, IN; Kankakee CC); outfielders Scott Hansen (Portage, IN; Toledo University). Gavin Terry (Homewood, IL; South Suburban College), and Hayden Matulich (San Jose, California; Purdue Northwest); and pitchers Ryan Troxell (Valparaiso Indiana; Indiana Tech), Ivan Balboa (Hobart, IN; Ivy Tech), Zach Beerling (Munster, IN; University of Wisconsin-Beloit), Mark Tor (Homer Glen, IL; South Suburban College), Jake Thometz (Munster, IN; Depauw University), and Dylan Matusak (Crown Point, IN; Heidelberg University).
Corn Dogs Majority Owner Ralph Flores said he is excited to have so many players returning this season for another run at the at the league championship. And with a new crop of Corn Dogs signed for the season, Flores likes the team’s chances to repeat as league champs.
“Offensively, last year, we were a power hitting team,” Flores said. “This season, I think we’ll see a different brand of Corn Dogs baseball — more speed and better hitting for average. I think we’ll steal more bases and take extra bases. It’s going to be exciting baseball to watch.”
Flores emphasized that while the Corn Dogs played well in the field last year, he expects even better defense and more spectacular plays to the delight of the fans. Although there are some injuries among the pitching staff at the start of the season, he believes the roster has more than enough arms to make up for the losses. So, once those players are off the injured list… lookout!
“I believe we’re going to win the championship again,” Flores boldly predicted.
Also back for another championship run are manager Justin Huisman, the Northern League Manager of the Year, and coach Kyle Hallberg, head coach at South Suburban College.
Speaking of the returnees, Flores looks for Troxell, who finished up a stellar career at Indiana Tech this year and was named 2022 Northern League Pitcher of the Year, to be the ace of the staff this season.
“He is our team’s leader and our number one starter,” Flores said.
Flores reserved high praise for Balboa, winning pitcher of the 2022 semifinal game that propelled the Corn Dogs into the playoffs last season, and Matusak, who will make the transition from closer to starter this season. Thometz will be back in his middle reliever role, and Beerling, who joined the team mid-season and earned a starting role last season, will have high expectations with a full season on the mound. Terry is the speedster in center field.
Hansen, whose season with the Corn Dogs helped propel him to Division I Toledo University, will see action at a variety of positions. Schultz, a Northern League All-Star, will lock down shortstop, and Puplava adds plenty of power at first base. Stevanovic is a rock behind home plate and brings veteran leadership to the team.
Foremost among key additions for 2023 is Drayk Bowen of St. John, IN. Yes, that Drayk Bowen: Indiana Mr. Football 2022, Butkus Award winner, and middle linebacker for the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish. Bowen, a graduate of Andrean High School, helped lead the Fighting 59ers to state championships in both football and baseball. He will see action at third base and shortstop, and brings the long ball to the lineup.
Other key additions include:
- Outfielders Will Hill (Chicago, IL; South Suburban College), Denham Kozy (Munster, IN; John Logan JC), and Ben Greiner (Munster, IN; Depauw University)
- Catchers Matt Santana (St. John, IN; Wabash Valley College) and Ethan Nielsen (Rolling Prairie, IN; Indiana Tech)
- Infielders Ethan Imlach (Mokena, IL; Purdue Northwest), Zach Zychowski (Cedar Lake, IN; uncommitted), Kevin Hall (Munster, IN; Grambling University), Shane Jones (Homewood, IL; South Suburban College), and Owen Winters (Kouts, IN; Purdue Northwest)
The Corn Dogs have made a number of key signings to their pitching staff: Gabe Stout (Crown Point, IN; Indiana Wesleyan University), Gavin Gallagher (Hobart, IN; Kishwaukee CC); Sean Kasper (Chesterton, IN; Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne), Eric Santaguida (Crown Point, IN; Western Carolina University); Josh Warn (Dyer, IN; South Suburban College), Chris Bachman (Crown Point, IN; St. Xavier University), Austin Pizer (Highland, IN; Benedictine University), David Zaragoza (Lockport, IL; South Suburban College), and Adam Walters (Schererville, IN; South Suburban College).
The Corn Dogs open their season at Legacy Fields in Crown Point on Thursday, May 25 against league rivals, the NWI Oilmen. First pitch is 7 p.m.