By STEVE KRAH
After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.
Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.
Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.
Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.
Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.
“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.
“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”
Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.
The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).
Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.
“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”
With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.
Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.
“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”
Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.
“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”
By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.
“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.
The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.
“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”
Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.
“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.
The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).
“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”
Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.
“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.
Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.
His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.
After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.
Or so he thought.
Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.
In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.
However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.
Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.
“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”
Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)