Tag Archives: Gunnar Pullins

UIndy ‘late bloomer’ Rivas grows into D-II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Indianapolis sophomore left-hander Xavier Rivas was named 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings NCAA Division II Midwest Region Pitcher of the Year.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder in his second year in the Greyhounds starting rotation went 7-0 with a 2.24 earned run average, 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 80 1/3 innings over 12 games. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed by innings pitched) was 0.98. Opponents hit .170 off the southpaw.
All this from someone who refers to himself as a “late bloomer.”
“The winter before my senior year I was throwing 78 to 82 mph, but I wanted to play (in college),” says Rivas, a 2020 Portage (Ind.) High School graduate. “I didn’t want to go and sit.
“I was a big kid but I hadn’t grown into my body.”
Rivas made a visit to UIndy, threw a bullpen for the coaches and was offered a spot on the team.
“The rest is history,” says Rivas, who credits several people for his ascension.
The winter before his junior year at Portage, Rivas began training with Joe Plesac (who was the pitching coach at Andrean High School Merrillville, Ind.).
“My dad go word of him through my strength coach in Valparaiso (Bub Pullins, whose son Gunnar Pullins was a senior first baseman on the Olivet Nazarene University team in 2022),” says Rivas.
At UIndy, Rivas has learned from head coach Al Ready and two pitching coaches — first Landon Hutchison and then Adam Cornwell. Trevor Forde is another Greyhounds assistant.
“He’s big on trust,” says Rivas of Ready. “He’s do anything for the players.
“It’s nice hearing his opinion. He was a real good hitter.”
Hutchison assisted the lefty with his mechanics and Cornwell with the mental side of things.
“When I came I had a real robotic back-side arm action,” says Rivas. “(Hutchison) was a big numbers guy. We used Rapsodo (cameras) and he taught me my slider.
“(Cornwell) played some pro ball and at UIndy. He’s taught me a lot. He’s helped me with some mechanical cues that added on a few miles per hour.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Rivas employs a four-seam fastball, curve, slider and change-up.
During the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament with warm temperatures that the Greyhounds rarely saw in 2022 (he only pitched two times with the game-time thermometer reaching 60 and one start it was 17 with the wind chill), Rivas was above to get a sweat going on the mound and get his four-seamer up to 92 mph.
“We would have themes for bus rides,” says Rivas. “One time it a beach theme and we wore shorts and flip-flops. When we left Indianapolis it was in the 60s or 70s. It was in the 40s when we got there.
“That’s the nature of the beast in the Midwest. It’s bipolar weather.”
Rivas delivers his curve over the top close to 12-to-6 on the clock face.
In an attempt to “tunnel” his pitches, he wants them to look the same coming out of his hand and as they near the plate then they move in different ways.
Throwing his slider and change-up around the same speed — 80 to 84 mph — he tries to get the slider to dive down and to the right back foot of right-handed hitters. The change-up goes away from righties.
Rivas played one varsity season for Portage head coach Bob Dixon in 2019 (the 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic).
“He was an older school guy and a nice guy,” says Rivas of Dixon.
The pitcher underwent knee surgery from a wrestling injury and played junior varsity ball as a Portage sophomore.
Wrestling is a big deal in Xavier’s family. His father Jeremy Rivas went to the IHSAA State Finals three times and was a state runner-up at 125 pounds as a Portage senior in 1993.
Jeremy coached at Hobart (Ind.) High School and helped Alex Ramos to a pair of state titles (1999 at 119 and 2000 at 125) and a fifth-place finish (1998 at 119).
Xavier Rivas wrestled from sixth through ninth grade for Portage (Leroy Vega was his high school coach). A torn meniscus as a sophomore put an end to his mat career.
“I knew baseball was my future,” says Rivas, who was coaxed by friends to play football as a senior. He was a wide receiver and tight end for the Indians in the fall of 2018.
Rivas did some powerlifting as early as high school freshman, but nothing was organized.
“When I got to college I saw how strong everyone was,” says Rivas. “I’m very competitive. I wanted to be the strongest one on the team.”
He got serious about lifting and began getting workouts from friend and competitive lifter Aaron Blake and went heavy with all his lifts when there was a two-month break at UIndy during the winter of 2020-21.
“I got up to 230 pounds,” says Rivas.
A Mechanical Engineering major, Rivas expects to graduate in five years. He is heading into his true junior year. He did not get an extra year of eligibility since he was not in college during the pandemic.
He took a heavy course load during his freshman season — 18 hours — and struggled while doing all online courses and being on the road frequently with the baseball team.
“I tried to study on the bus but that didn’t work,” says Rivas.
This year has been better with in-person classes and 17 hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.
“That was much better,” says Rivas, who mentors freshmen teammates so they don’t suffer the same as he did.
This summer, Rivas is with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
Looking for innings, he spent part of the summer of 2021 playing American Legion ball for the South Haven Post 502 Blaze. He spent part of the previous summer with the Midwest Irish.
Born in Hobart, Rivas grew up in South Haven and moved to Portage in the middle of his sixth grad year.
He started at South Haven Little League at 4. He was playing there and in travel ball at 9. The Portage Tribe and Morris Chiefs were two of his other travel ball teams.
Xavier’s mother is Nina Rivas. Sister Mya Rivas (18) is a 2022 Portage graduate who is headed to Purdue University.

Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)
Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Pullins, Olivet Nazarene bound for NAIA Opening Round in California

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator.
Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around.
“I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22.
But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event.
A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round.
“We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins.
On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho.
In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19.
Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts.
This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player.
“My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school.
“I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.”
He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm.
A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well.
From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department.
In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch.
Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round.
“It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.”
Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks.
“There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.”
Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach).
A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans.
“He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.”
Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills.
Why ONU?
“They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.”
That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities.
“I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.”
Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball.
“I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.”
It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college.
“I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.”
At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins.
Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)
Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene University Photo)

Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

Block V 2018

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.