BY STEVE KRAH
Illiana Christian was plenty successful on the baseball diamond when the high school was in Lansing, Ill.
As recently as 2004 — with Dave Beezhold as head coach — the Vikings qualified for the Illinois state tournament and went 27-8.
In 2018, Illiana Christian relocated from Lansing, where it was founded in 1945, to an incorporated area of Dyer, Ind. In 2020-21, it became a full Indiana High School Athletic Association member.
The 2022 Vikings won the program’s first IHSAA sectional and regional titles and are one win away from the State Finals.
In earning a date opposite No. 3-ranked Wapahani (24-4) in the 2A Kokomo Semistate at noon Central Time Saturday, June 11, Illiana Christian won the Whiting Sectional (Bowman Academy 19-0, Hammond Bishop Noll 3-1 and Wheeler 16-4) and Whiting Regional (Winamac 11-1 and Eastside 7-0).
Alum and former Beezhold assistant Jeff VanderWoude’s first year leading the Vikings was 2019-20 — the season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Illiana Christian went 19-6 and lost 2-1 to Wheeler in the 2A Whiting Sectional championship game.
VanderWoude sees the closeness of the players and a willingness to put others before themselves has been a formula for success.
“We’ve been getting them to buy in and loving each other,” says VanderWoude. “We don’t have a ‘me’ person.
“We are controlling the controllable.
“They play as one really well. In the game against Eastside, we were competing one pitch at a time.”
Emphasizing the mental side, VanderWoude has seen his players adjust when there is a temporary lack of focus.
Illiana Christian (enrollment around 480) joined the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting) in 2021.
With the addition of the Vikings, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Illiana Christian is paired with Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll and Hanover Central. The 2022 Vikings went 8-3 in the GSSC, finishing behind Hanover Central (10-1) and tying Griffith (8-3).
Through 24 games, Illiana Christian was led offensively by junior pitcher Kevin Corcoran (.468 average, four home runs, 34 runs batted in, 11 stolen bases), senior center fielder Ivan VanBeek (.421, 18 RBI, 22 SB), senior second baseman Levi Hescott (.368), senior left fielder Tyler Barker (.339, 27 RBI), the coach’s son — sophomore shortstop Isaac VanderWoude (.333, 15 RBI, 19 SB) and junior first baseman Cody DeJong (.329, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 11 SB).
The bulk of the pitching has been handled by left-hander Corcoran (3-1, 2.29 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 13 walks 39 2/3 innings), right-hander VanBeek (2-2, 1.58, 44 K’s, four walks, 31 IP) and senior lefty Austin Maslanka (3-0, 2.10, 34 K’s, 10 walks, 20 IP).
Assistant coaches are Shane Zegarac, Dale Meyer, Kevin Corcoran, Caleb Jonkman, Greg Gierling and Bo Hofstra.
“We are where we are because of those guys,” says VanderWoude. “They are salt of the earth people.”
Zegarac pitched for Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Eastern Kentucky University and in the Texas Rangers system plus independent ball.
Corcoran is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. Illiana Christian alum Meyer played at Southern Illinois University. Hofstra pitched for Illiana Christian and Purdue University. Jonkman, who has been National Wiffle@Ball Player of the Year more than once, and Gierling are also IC grads.
Others with Illiana Christian connections are grad Fletcher Bandstra at Calvin College (Grand Rapids), Carter Doorn (from IC to Lake Central to Purdue University) and former Vikings player D.J. Gladney (Chicago White Sox organization).
The Vikings have on-campus diamond which is tended to by coaches and Dave Vermuelen (the father of former player Chris Vermuelen).
“It’s a nice field,” says VanderWoude. “In Illinois, we used limestone. We have a fairway mower and put designs in the field. It gets constant water and treatment.
“We’re taking pride in what we have.”
After graduating from Illiana Christian in 1997, outfielder Jeff VanderWoude played for Cobras head coach Rod Lovett at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and then for Tigers head coach Beauford Sanders at Campellsville (Ky.) University.
VanderWoude was on the Parkland coaching staff of Dave Seifert, who went on to be an assistant then head coach at the University of Evansville. As a Philadelphia Phillies regional cross-checker, he had VanderWoude working for him for about a decade.
VanderWoude, runs Perm-A-Seal — an asphalt maintenance business in Lynwood, Ill. — with father Keith. Jeff and wife Jori have four children. Besides Isaac (16), there’s Lydia (15), Mya (13) and Hayvn (9). Lydia VanderWoude played varsity softball as an Illiana Christian freshman in 2022. Mya VanderWoude is heading into the eighth grade and Havyn VanderWoude fourth grade.