Penn’s Dikos puts program first and piles up hardware

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Everyone knows that the white “P” on those black caps stands for Penn.

But it could just as season stand for another “P” word.

“Bottom line: It’s not a person, it’s the program,” says Penn High School head baseball coach Greg Dikos. “Everybody contributes. You can plug anybody in.”

That’s the way Dikos has operated for three decades on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka.

The program-first method works.

As the Kingsmen get ready for an IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Semistate game against Zionsville Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 2A game), they are led by a man who has led the program to 702 wins, including 18 sectionals, 10 regionals, three semistates and four state championships (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015) plus 18 Northern Indiana Conference titles in his 30 seasons as head coach (he’s been in the program for 37).

Chasing championships is what they do at Penn.

“Those are definitely our expectations,” says Dikos, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. “We try to make the kids realize that when they sign up as freshmen.”

Dikos, 60, ticks off the trademarks of the Penn program: “Hard work. Teamwork. Discipline. Commitment.”

While the Kingsmen have numerous NCAA Division I commits in the 2017 lineup, including Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame), Nolan Metcalf (Kansas) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) plus NAIA two-sporter Matt Kominkiewicz (Saint Francis, Ind. for baseball and football), this is not a typical year.

“We have hard-working kids that come in and give it their all, play together,” says Dikos. “Comparatively speaking, with other athletes around the area, we just hold our own because we play as a team.”

Discipline means showing up on time consistently and following Penn’s athletic code of conduct year-round.

Dikos demands discipline in the school building and class room. His players are not allowed to cut class, get tardies or give the teacher a hard time.

“They know the first person the teacher goes to is me,” says Dikos. “If it gets to me, I know that teacher is frustrated. We’ll take care of it right away.”

Penn High School coaches expect their athletes “to be champions on and off the field” and that’s certainly the case in baseball.

Baseball-playing Kingsmen put in a commitment of quality time. Dikos and long-time assistant Jim Kominkiewicz no longer lead five-hour workouts. They’ve learned to get the job done in about 1 1/2. But players are expected to work. Athletes put in countless hours on their own in the fall and winter, working on skills and lifting weights.

The 2016-17 school year was the first for full-time strength and conditioning coach Matt Cates, who puts Penn athletes through sport-specific exercises either during the school day, before or after.

“Our kids have developed immensely,” says Dikos, a health and physical education teacher at PHS. “It’s going to benefit the freshman class this year the most because they’re going to have four years of Cates.”

Players are willing to put in the quality time because of their baseball adoration.

“It’s a difficult sport if you love it. It’s an impossible sport if you don’t love it,” says Dikos. “The kids that make it to their senior year really love it. They have fun doing baseball stuff.

“You just try to built that chemistry and that will lead to the fun.”

While early-season workouts are more regimented, as Penn gets deeper into the postseason, practices at Jordan Automotive Group Field tend to be more relaxed and players are encouraged to enjoy the experience.

Typical of tournament time, Dikos gave his tournament roster the day off Monday so he could work with his younger players. In many years, the Kingsmen have been practicing for the state tournament, the summer travel season and running a youth camp all in the same week.

In addressing players and parents at the beginning of each season Dikos makes one promise: The season will not be perfect.

“We go through the same things that other teams do,” says Dikos. “We have our same problems that other team do. We just try to deal with them as effectively as we can. We try to nip it in the bud.”

Working through those problems present a life lesson.

“You’re not going to get along with your soulmate every single day.,” says Dikos. “You’re going to have problems with you marriage, with your job. These are things you have to work out. These are values I hope are learned going through our program that kids can take with them in college and the rest of their lives.”

Dikos likes the way Paul Holaway puts it.

“We don’t expect perfection; we expect to be exceptionally good,” says Dikos in quoting his senior manager. “You never perfect baseball. It’s always a learning process and change. It’s a series of adjustments every level that you go up

“We (coaches) have that expectation that we’re going to win. Once you build that, the kids go in there expecting that same thing.”

Many Penn baseball alumni were in the crowd to see the ’17 Kingsmen beat Goshen and Elkhart Central (win No. 700 for Dikos) to win the Elkhart Sectional and Lake Central and Andrean to take the LaPorte Regional.

“It really pumped our kids up a lot seeing their ex-teammates,” says Dikos. “I imagine there’s pressure in not letting those guys down, not letting the program down.

“But it’s certainly not emphasized by the coaching staff.”

Besides Kominkiewicz, who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski at South Bend Adams (graduating in 1973) with his quarter century in the program, the staff features Tom Stanton (Penn Class of 2000), John Westra (Sturgis 2003), Elliott Lares (Penn 2014), Brian Lares (Penn 2008) and Collin McNamara (Penn 2014).

Positional coaches are Dikos (catchers), Stanton (pitchers) Kominkiewicz (infielders) and Westra (outfielders). The other help at the junior varsity or freshmen levels.

Trust is big for Dikos, who has come to rely on the opinions of “Komo.”

“He’s one guy you can depend on,” says Dikos of Kominkiewicz. “I know he’s going to be here everyday. He’s going to give it his all.

“One thing he and I have in common is we just want to win. We just try to put our best nine on the field regardless of who it is.”

The current Penn lineup is not the one that took the field at the beginning of the spring.

“It’s something a veteran staff is able to figure out,” says Dikos. “The parents expect their kids to be given a chance. The kids expect to be given a chance — unless it happens to another kid.

“They don’t understand why you stick with a kid for a few games. In reality, you’re giving them the kind of chances you give everybody. You play yourself out of a position. Some parents and players think it should happen faster or they should be given a little more time. “

All the coaching experience really helps.

“We might lose a game along the way trying to figure things out,” says Dikos. “That’s something parents will have a hard time getting a grip on.

“We’re thinking about making a state tournament run.”

Even in a school the size of Penn, there are multi-sport athletes. Dikos just doesn’t see as many as a he once did.

“It beginning to become quite the rarity but not because of (the coaching staff),” says Dikos. “We encourage multi-sport athletes.”

There are five of those on the 2017 baseball tournament roster

“In the past, it was a lot more,” says Dikos. But kids are beginning to specialize.”

Looking to children of Greg and Sally Dikos, sons Greg Jr. and Garrick were three-sport athletes through junior year at Penn and two-sport athletes as seniors. Daughter Sarah played multiple sports in junior high and found her talents led her to just volleyball in high school.

Dikos keeps the lines of communication open with Penn’s other head coaches.

“The only thing we ask is that the athletes tell us what’s going on and are respectful of everybody,” says Dikos. “We don’t want anybody short-changed. If the kids really want it, it’s workable.”

Dikos is a 1975 Swartz Creek (Mich.) High School and 1979 Ball State University graduate who played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization and has been giving back to the game ever since.

DIKOSKOMINKIEWICZSTANTON

Greg Dikos (center) and long-time assistants Jim Kominkiewicz (left) and Tom Stanton (right) have helped Penn High School into the 2017 Class 4A Kokomo Semistate. Dikos is in his 30th season as head baseball coach and has 702 win and four state titles on his resume. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Payne’s doing big things at tiny Lanesville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tiny Lanesville is making a name for itself in Indiana high school baseball thanks in large part to Zach Payne.

In Payne’s second season as head coach at the Class 1A school (about 250 students) in 2016, the Eagles were state runners-up.

Many from the Harrison County town of around 600 folks found their way to Victory Field in Indianapolis to see a 4-0 loss to Daleville.

In 2017, Payne has Lanesville (18-6) back in the 1A semistate. The Eagles’ opponent Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 3A game) at Jasper will be Indianapolis Lutheran (18-7). The winner advances to the state championship game.

Payne, 27, explains how he has gotten Lanesville to excel on the diamond.

“The main thing is putting kids in their best positions to succeed,” says Payne. “At a 1A school, we have limited numbers. We have to make the most out of what we’ve got. We try not to waste guys on the roster.”

There are 30 players in the program — the most Payne has had in his short time at the school. There are 20 on the tournament roster. He gets all of them — the starters and the bench players — to embrace their role.

“We will have them all contribute at some time during the season,” says Payne. “There’s a special group of guys who have been the leaders of the team. Other guys have been happy to help out in any way they can.”

The Eagles made it back to semistate in ’17 by topping New Washington and Borden to win the South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional and Loogootee and Northeast Dubois to take the Loogootee Regional.

It was the fourth sectional crown in program history (1975, 2010, 2016, 2017) and third regional (1975, 2016, 2017).

Lanesville is in the Southern Athletic Conference with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central.

With just five conference games (generally played one per week), Payne was free to have a challenging non-conference slate, full of larger opponents, including his alma mater and defending 2A state champion Providence.

“I like to schedule whoever,” says Payne. “This is probably the toughest schedule Lanesville has ever played.”

Lanesville, which plays its home games on Ed Jaegers Memorial Field at Heritage Park, is one of three teams in its sectional group with lights (South Central and Christian Academy of Indiana in New Albany, which did not field a team this spring, are the others) and those schools rotate as sectional hosts.

Zach Payne grew up playing baseball with his father Pat as a his youth coach.

“I wanted to be like dad,” says Payne. “I wanted to coach.”

Zach also counts older brother Sean (head softball coach at Floyd Central) and Providence coaches Scott Hornung, Scott Hutchins and Ben Hornung as mentors.

The 2017 Eagles coaching staff includes Josh Smith, Kyle Erwin, Christian Ensley at the varsity level with Jim Smith and Garrett Sherell guiding the junior varsity.

Payne, a computer programmer at Zirmed in Louisville by day, sees similarities in the community feel at Lanesville and Providence (he graduated from the school in Clarksville in 2008 and the University of Louisville in 2014).

“The biggest difference is the depth,” says Payne.

LANESVILLEEAGLES

ZACHPAYNE1

Zach Payne, 27, is in his third season as head baseball coach at Lanesville High School in southern Indiana. He took the Eagles to an IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up finish in 2016 and has the program back in the semistate in 2017.

Moore’s new flock leads Zionsville Eagles back into semistate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zionsville was on the biggest stage in Indiana high school baseball in 2016.

The Eagles played Roncalli in the IHSAA Class 4A state championship game.

Zionsville led 2-1 after their sixth at-bat and then lost 3-2 with the Rebels scoring the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That Eagles roster was chock full of impactful seniors. So even though they left Victory Field oh-so-close to a championship in 2016, they flew under the radar in 2017.

“We were so senior-heavy last year, everybody (outside Z-ville) assumed we were going to be down,” says fourth-year ZHS head coach Jered Moore. “Everybody assumed we were going to have to rebuild.”

People in the community knew better.

“Our junior class was always very successful at baseball,” says Moore. “They would have been starting (last year) on a lot of other teams.”

The 2017 version of Zionsville (22-11) is back in the 4A northern semistate against Penn (26-6). The game is slated for Saturday, June 10 at Kokomo (following the 1 p.m. 2A game). The Eagles topped the Kingsmen in last year’s semistate showdown at Kokomo.

The ’16 Eagles had five pitchers who touched 90 mph on the radar gun. There are practically no innings back from that squad and the hardest thrower hits 86 mph.

A deep mound staff is led by right-handers — seniors Max Bohrer and Eli Copner and junior Nick Brier.

The new pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) have been a “non-factor” for Zionsville this season. Starters did not pitch more than once a week and rarely went more than 100 pitches.

“Last year, we had one of the top pitching staffs in the nation — top to bottom,” says Moore. “This pitching staff is completely different. Last year, we threw strikes and threw hard. This year, we rely on throwing strikes and good defense.

“If you concentrate on defense, more than likely you’re going to win games.”

Zionsville stresses pitching and defense so much that they keep a “free base” chart that tracks walks, hit batsmen, passed balls, wild pitches, stolen bases, errors, dirt ball reads, advancing trail runners and extra bases on balls hit to the outfield.

“If we win the free base war, we’re going to win 90 percent of our games,” says Moore. “It’s pretty much held true.

“We can’t be giving up free bases.”

Moore notes that in the four games where the Eagles committed five or more errors, they lost three of those (the win came in extra innings).

Two full-time starters from ’16 (senior third baseman Chad Garisek and junior shortstop Riley Bertram) and one part-timer (junior first baseman Sam Edgell) can be found in the field for the Eagles. The first six batters in the order are all juniors.

Zionsville advanced to the 2017 semistate by beating Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon to win the Kokomo Sectional and Fort Wayne Snider and Fishers to take the Lafayette Jeff Regional.

Playing three-game series in the strong Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Avon, Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield) gets the Eagles ready for the rest of their schedule.

“Our guys are not going to be intimidated,” says Moore. “We just go out and play baseball and see who wins.”

Jered Moore is the son of Craig Moore, who played at East Gary High School and coached back-to-back state runners-up at Blackford High School in 1977 (losing to Logansport and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Jim Turner) and 1978 (losing to Evansville Memorial and IHSBCA Hall of Fame coach Quentin Merkel and player Don Mattingly) and then at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and many years with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who passed away in 2004.

A 1989 Brownsburg graduate who played for Bulldogs head coach Wayne Johnson, Jered Moore also took the diamond at Sam Houston State for Bearkats head coach John Skeeters.

Jered coached about 15 years with the Bulls (he is still a 17U assistant) before joining the Zionsville staff. His brother, Quinn, is also a Bulls coach.

The 2017 Zionsville staff includes Alex Graman (pitching coach), Jeremy Honaker (hitting coach) and Drew Koning (assistant coach) at the varsity level with Josh Medvescek, Jarrett Johnson, Brock Noye and Stephen Damm running the two junior varsity squads (Green and White).

Graman, a Southridge High School graduate, pitched at Indiana State University and briefly with the New York Yankees and in Japan.

Honaker, a Connersville High School graduate, played at the University of Southern Indiana and also coaches with the Indiana Bulls.

Koning, a Lafayette Jeff graduate, played football at Franklin College and also coached with the Indiana Bulls.

ZIONSVILLEEAGLES

Trout, defending 3A state champion Northview ‘embrace the target’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Northview took a junior-heavy team to Indianapolis in 2016 and claimed the first IHSAA team state title in school history — a Class 3A baseball championship.

The question started around Brazil: What will the Knights do with all those seniors in 2017?

The answer is very well.

Fourth-year head coach Craig Trout has gotten his squad to “embrace the target” and led by 10 members from the Class of ’17, Northview is 25-3 and again in the 3A southern semistate against Jasper (30-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10 at Jasper’s Ruxer Field. That’s one win away from a return trip to Victory Field.

“I told them the target’s on their back,” says Trout. “They can run from it or embrace it. We want to play better baseball every time we go out and play somebody and still carry ourselves with humility and a hard work status.”

The Knights topped Sullivan, Owen Valley and Edgewood to win the Northview Sectional then Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks to take the Brebeuf Regional (moved from Crawfordsville after a tornado hit Montgomery County).

Northview, a member of the Western Indiana Conference (along with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley, South Vermillion, Sullivan and West Vigo), is reaping the benefits of a core group that began playing and winning together at a young age. The senior class has earned seven state baseball titles from youth leagues on up.

“They’ve learned how to win,” says Trout. “That’s really important for a culture.”

Having been there before, Trout’s players know what it means to play in close games, come from behind or hold on to a lead.

Some of the younger Knights were also a part of the North Clay Middle School baseball program, started when Trout took over as head coach from Scott McDonald for the 2014 season (he was a McDonald assistant for five).

“It builds a cohesiveness,” says Trout of middle school baseball. “They play with each other at least two years and build that bond of brotherhood. It helps teams become winners.”

Clay Youth League and travel teams have also kept the diamond momentum up in a program that has long been a winner (just not a state champion until 2016).

Trout was a catcher for the Knights and coach Gary Witham, who went 581-274 in 31 seasons (1978-84 at pre-consolidation Brazil and 1985-2008 at Northview).

One of Trout’s fond memories was playing games for Witham in Costa Rica in the summer of 2004.

Brazil/Northview won 11 sectionals on Witham’s watch with the first regional coming in Trout’s senior season of 2005. The Knights won one sectional for McDonald and now have two sectionals and two regionals with Trout in charge.

Trout remembers Witham’s strengths as a coach.

“He would focus on practice, making sure the time we spent was time well-spent,” says Trout. “There was not a lot of down time.

“Gary was pretty calm during the game. I’m a really emotional guy. I ride the highs and lows a lot. He was good to the players.”

Besides embracing the target, Trout has his ’17 Knights “FIT” for the task at hand. That’s Focus, Intensity and Toughness.

“We want to win every inning and play Northview baseball (small ball with timely hits),” says Trout on Focus.

Intensity manifests itself in being present and positive — on the bench and on the field.

Toughness means the Knights are always tracking the ball and hustling.

“That’s been the M.O. for this team,” says Trout.

Helping make all those things happen are Trout’s assistant coaches — Mitch Lancaster, Tony Trout, Scott McDonald, Jim Tucker and Trent Lancaster.

Lancaster and Trout were in Craig’s first two hires.

Mitch Lancaster, who has coached multiple sports and various schools and the son of former Brazil head baseball coach Bob Lancaster, is in charge of defense and helps with strategy.

Tony Trout, Craig’s father, is the pitching/catching coach. Father and son are both social studies teachers at NHS.

Former head coach McDonald is a statistician and in-game strategist. Tucker coaches the junior varsity. Trent Lancaster is C-team and strength and conditioning coach.

Craig Trout, an Indiana State University graduate, began his coaching career in 2006 as a football assistant. He has coached basketball and track and was at Marshall (Ill.) High School for a time before coming back to Brazil.

The Trouts are a baseball family. Craig’s father Tony Trout was a catcher at Staunton High School, Wabash Valley College and Indiana University. Grandfather Virgil Trout pitched in the New York Giants system with Hannibal, Mo., and Michigan City. Uncle Joe Trout pitched for Indiana State. Great uncle Jim Casassa was also a pitcher who tried out for the Detroit Tigers. There are stories about seeing Satchel Paige pitch against the old Terre Haute Tots.

Craig has also been a sponge around Indiana high school’s greatest baseball minds, including Jasper’s Terry Gobert and Crawfordsville’s John Froedge.

“Being 31 and being a head coach is a difficult task,” says Trout. “You are still figuring things out. Being in the coaching fraternity and being successful has been great for me.”

“(Veteran coaches) came to me as mentors and gave me great information that I’ll always remember.”

CRAIGTROUT

Craig Trout celebrates a regional baseball championship with wife Robin, daughter Calli Drew and son Lincoln. Trout is in his fourth season as head coach at Northview High School. The Knights were Class 3A state champions in 2016.

Upp has storied LaPorte baseball program back in regional

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaPorte has three dozen IHSAA sectional baseball championships to its credit.

But the Slicers had experienced a title drought.

Until 2017.

The orange and black will not only be hosting but playing in the Class 4A LaPorte Regional for the first time since 2010.

Coach Scott Upp’s team earned that right by winning the Plymouth Sectional.

“Pitching and defense — that was the story of the sectional,” says Upp, who got commanding mound performances from Andy Samuelson and Chandler Banic. “We didn’t knock the cover off the ball. We got timely hits.”

LaPorte advanced through the sectional by beating South Bend Clay, Mishawaka and Plymouth.

“All three of those programs are well-known throughout northern Indiana,” says Upp.

The regional field at Schreiber Field features Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) in Game 1, Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) in Game 2 and the regional final at night Saturday, June 3. Andrean is No. 6 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association 4A poll. LaPorte, Lake Central and Penn all received votes.

Between the four schools, they have won 18 state crowns (LaPorte 8, Andrean 5, Penn 4 and Lake Central) 1).

Upp knows from his experience as a LaPorte player (he’s a 1986 graduate who played for and later coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber) knows about the intensity and urgency of postseason baseball.

“You have your regular season and your second season,” says Upp. “If you can get hot or be playing your best ball at that time.”

LaPorte lost to Chesterton in the regular-season finale, but took the time between then and their sectional games and “got back to the basics.”

“We got individual time in with defense and hitting,” says Upp. “Our pitchers got a chance to breathe a little bit.”

Getting that chance to practice and refresh is just what the Slicers needed going into the sectional.

While LaPorte has won plenty of sectionals, Upp notes that it has become a tougher proposition since the class system came along with the 1998 season (the year he took over for Schreiber 11 games in).

With all the state’s biggest schools and, in the case of Andrean (playing “up” in class because of the IHSAA success factor, postseason success is not a given.

“We seem to have different sectional champs every year and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Upp. “It’s good baseball.

“I’m not making excuses for LaPorte and why we’ve had a seven-year span. It is more difficult.”

Upp calls IHSAA state tournament games “a rough way to go.”

“In high school baseball, you take one guy on the mound and that team becomes totally different,” says Upp. “And it’s a one-and-done tournament.”

There are no series or second chances.

The coach notes that there are not too many back-to-back champions in the Duneland Athletic Conference (which also includes Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso) either.

The 2017 Slicers were tied for first place in the DAC going into the final two games with Chesterton. LaPorte lost both games against Chesterston and split two games each with Crown Point, Lake Central and Valparaiso, finishing 9-5 and in fourth in the conference.

Chesterton won it at 11-3 (then lost to Andrean in the Chesterton Sectional championship game).

It’s all-Slicer coaching staff at LaPorte. Everyone played their high school baseball on Schreiber Field.

Jeff DeMass (Class of 2005) is the pitching coach. Rob Schellinger (1998) has moved up from the junior varsity to be a varsity assistant. Mark Manering (1981) is a volunteer varsity coach. The JV Slicers are led by Kevin Upp (2010) with help from Blake Hindsley (2005).

The rich traditions of the program are detailed in a book, Slicer Baseball: A Cut Above (produced by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest) and sold by LaPorte High School.

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SCOTTUPP

Scott Upp, a 1986 LaPorte High School graduate, has been the Slicers’ head baseball coach since early in the 1998 season. His 2017 team will play in the IHSAA Class 4A LaPorte Regional. (Steve Krah Photo)

Sheets credits community support with role in NorthWood baseball success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wa-Nee sports fans have a reputation for backing their teams.

The latest example comes with NorthWood High School winning its fifth straight baseball sectional championship.

The folks of Wakarusa and Nappanee would really have turned out in force if the weather had cooperated and the event was held at NorthWood as scheduled.

But rains forced all but a few innings of the first game to be played at Wawasee.

Plenty of Panthers fans went to Syracuse to see NorthWood top Wawasee and Lakeland for a berth in the Class 3A Bellmont Regional on Saturday, June 3. Yorktown meets Norwell in Game 1, followed by NorthWood against Fort Wayne Concordia with the championship that night.

It’s nearly 90 miles to Decatur. But that’s not likely to stop NorthWood fans.

“It’s like we’re a big family,” says Panthers third-year head coach Jay Sheets, who was part of a sectional baseball championship team and an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star as a NorthWood senior in 2007 before playing at Manchester University for coach Rick Espeset. “People rally together. “Parents want to see all the kids do well. On Memorial Day — with other things going on — we had a big crowd (at the sectional championship game).”

NorthWood (24-1) lost 1-0 in its season opener against Westview and have won 19 times by allowing three runs or less.

“Our pitching and defense does not give up a lot of runs,” says Sheets. “Our hitting is coming around at the right time.”

The workhorse has been senior Drake Gongwer (a Taylor University commit), but the Panthers have a half dozen capable arms.

Sheets, 29, credits the Class of ’17 for leading the way this spring.

“We have five phenomenal seniors,” says Sheets of a group that includes Gongwer, Drew Minnich, Vincent Herschberger, Jaron Mullet and Travis Stephenson. “They’ve instilled work ethic in our younger guys.”

Gongwer, Minnich, Herschberger and Moore were all regulars as sophomores in Sheets’ first season as head coach after a few leading the junior varsity. “They’re all battle-tested. They know what (regional) is going to be like with the crowd sizes. They can tell the younger guys.”

Even so, the Panthers might have a few butterflies. That does not bother their head coach.

“Nerves are a good thing in my mind,” says Sheets. “They keep you on your toes.”

Sheets, a third grade teacher at Wakarusa Elementary, is helped in the dugout by Todd Cleveland (pitching coach), Matt Cox (hitting and outfielders coach), Greg Estepp (junior varsity head coach) and Aaron Arnold (JV assistant).

Success is a tradition for NorthWood baseball. With the latest hardware, the Panthers have won 11 sectionals.

The 2017 Panthers won the Northern Lakes Conference. Other NLC members are Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Northridge, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee.

JAYSHEETS

Jay Sheets, a 2007 NorthWood High School graduate, is in his third season as head baseball coach at his alma mater. The Bellmont Regional-bound Panthers won their fifth straight sectional in 2017.

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

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.”

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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)

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