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.
Damen Castillo likes to maintain a routine. “I am very superstitious, especially when it comes to baseball,” says Castillo, a 2018 graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, where he played for John Bogner, and is in his final season at Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) in 2022. “I have a Red Bull before every game — no matter what. “I’ll play catch in the same spot. I’ll go through the same routine for hitting.” Castillo has also been known to keep his helmet or equipment bag in the same location. Why? “I have no idea,” says Castillo, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who plays first base and bats clean-up for the Benedictine Eagles. Going into action Tuesday, April 26 against North Central College, the righty-swinger is hitting .381 (40-of-105) with seven home runs, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 25 runs scored for a team that is 21-6 overall and 15-1 atop the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference standings (Benedictine was 29-13 and 15-5 in 2021). Because of COVID-19, Castillo has another year of eligibility remaining, but is planning to finish his degree in Management and Organizational Behavior with a concentration in Operations Management. Castillo, who spent the summer of 2021 with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp, says he will entertain professional baseball opportunities if they come his way. Otherwise, he intends to enter the work force, going into construction like members of his family. “I want to start out as a worker so I can learn things,” says Castillo. “I don’t want to manage something so young like that.” He has thoroughly enjoyed his college experience. “The relationships you build with people are for the rest of my life,” says Castillo. “The baseball part of it has been fun.” As an NCAA Division III program, Benedictine conducted fall workouts and then had “captain’s practice” — where coaches were not allowed instruct — in the winter. Adam Smith is the Eagles head coach. “We’ve become really close,” says Castillo. “He’s really good with everybody. He’s easy to talk to as a coach. “He’ll get on you when you do something wrong but teach you so you can do it right the next time.” Benedictine practices tend to top out at two hours and there is also weightlifting and extra hitting during a typical week. “Coach Smith likes to give us free time,” says Castillo. “You’ve got to get away from it a little bit.” Castillo, who lives in an on-campus apartment with three teammates, likes to relax with video games like Call of Duty and MLB The Show.
Calumet Christian School is unbeaten in its first 17 games of the 2022 high school baseball season. The team made up of students from the tiny private school in Griffith, Ind., plus homeschoolers and online students could wind up playing 40 or more games — on either side of the Indiana-Illinois line – this spring. “We continue to try to schedule as many public schools as possible to compete with,” says head coach Bill DeRuiter. Not a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the Patriots are not restricted to a maximum number of contests. According to DeRuiter, there are less than 200 students in grades K-12 with between 30 and 40 in the upper four classes. DeRuiter has been head boys basketball coach at Calumet Christian (formerly Calumet Baptist) the past two winters and took over the baseball program this season and has some expectations for his 12 varsity players (there is also a junior varsity squad of about 16). “What’s really important for us is that you understand your role on the team,” says DeRuiter. “We can’t have 12 players that want to be the star. “You strive to have a better role, more playing time, more responsibility. We talk about being all-in — do it for your team, for yourself as an individual and for your faith.” Senior Jordan Landkrom is hitting a robust .604 (32-of-53) with three home runs, four triples, four doubles, 31 runs batted in and 31 runs scored. Sophomore Carter Tymm sports a .469 average, 31 RBIs and 26 runs. Sophomore Isaiah Palanca is batting .463 with 14 RBIs and 36 runs. There’s also sophomores Jared McKinney (.429), Zack Murphy (.394) and Drew Ruf (.333), junior Kadyn Foutz (.385) and senior Riley Thomas (.333). The combined earned run average of the pitching staff is 0.88 with 156 strikeouts in 95 innings. Thomas, Tymm and junior Ethan Duensing are all 4-0 on the mound while Murphy and Palanca are 2-0. DeRuiter’s squad plays an attacking brand of offensive baseball. “We want to challenge teams to have to make perfect throws and perfect plays,” says DeRuiter. “I’m willing to take chances and be aggressive. We want to take advantage of mistakes. It’s more fun that way.” Of the squad’s 167 hits so far, 47 are for extra bases. Playing in cold and windy conditions for many of their early games, the Patriots make the most of infield singles and bloopers. Calumet Christian plays most of its games on the road. The Patriots’ “home” field is at Schererville Baseball Complex in Crown Point, Ind. Led in scoring by Jordan Landkron, Calumet Christian’s boys basketball team went 22-10 and won a Christian school state championship in 2021-22, beating Heritage Christian (Dyer), Victory Christian (Valparaiso), Calvary Christian (Indianapolis) and Pleasant View Christian (Montgomery) in the playoff run. There is no equivalent postseason event for baseball. “We try to do cool experiences,” says DeRuiter of a slate that includes contests at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind., Ozinga Field in Crestview, Ill., and Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet, Ill. Those facilities are home to the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Northwest Indiana Oilmen, Windy City Thunderbolts and Joliet Slammers. DeRuiter’s coaching staff features Adam Lankrohn (father of shortstop Jordan), Joe Palanca (father of center fielder Isaiah) and Jeff Duensing (father of first baseman Ethan). The husband of Calumet Christian athletic director Jen Landkrohn, Adam handles scheduling and other details for the team. “He’s the person that makes everything go,” says DeRuiter, who also teaches seventh/eighth grade Social Studies at Crown Point Christian. Before coaching at Calumet Christian, DeRuiter was head women’s basketball coach at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., for five years. The 2005 graduate of Chicago Christian High School, where he played four seasons of football, basketball and baseball, earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Middle Grade Social Sciences from Trinity Christian and a master’s degree in Athletic Administration & Coaching from Concordia University Irvine. DeRuiter calls his high school basketball coach, Ross Douma, his top coaching mentor. “He’s been a great sounding board for me,” says DeRuiter of Douma. “He helped guide me through some tough choices as I was learning the business.” Head junior varsity baseball coach at Chicago Christian was DeRuiter’s first coaching job. He has also served as head boys basketball coach at Evergreen Park (Ill.) Community High School. Bill and Nichole DeRuiter have been married for 11 years and have three children — Trey (9), Charlotte (7) and Jameson (4).
Matt Peters has not only unlocked the door to pitching velocity, the Fort Wayne, Ind., right-hander has kicked the door in and the baseball world is taking notice. The 6-foot-4, 215- pound sophomore at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne has been clocked as high as 101 mph. There are seven to nine pro scouts at all of Peters’ mound starts. He nows gets mentioned among the nation’s hardest throwers, including University of Tennessee righty Ben Joyce, who has fired it at 104 mph. Peters was on the cover of Collegiate Baseball. The first time 101 came was March 5 against Lincoln Trail College at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Peters did that again as recently as Monday, April 11 as the Titans played the Trine University junior varsity in Angola, Ind. A Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) commit, Peters has made a significant jump since the summer of 2021. “I worked a lot on my mechanics last fall with Coach Javi,” says Peters. “When I got into my legs my arm slot came up (to mid to high three-quarter overhand).” Ivy Tech pitching coach Javier DeJesus helped Peters reorganize his mechanics to make him move more efficiently. “Matt has confidence in how his body moves,” says DeJesus. “He can trust himself to throw the crap out of the ball and just where to put it. “The first (bullpen) pitch out his hand in the spring was 99 mph. I thought, ‘what did I just create?’” DeJesus gauged Peters’ deliveries last Aug. 16 and the speediest pitch came in at 93 mph. DeJesus, who was an All-American at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, pitched professionally for 10 seasons and has instructed many young arms, put his Titans hurlers — Peters included — through a grueling training program he created 15 years ago that he calls “Hell in the Cell.” “It is just as bad as it sounds,” says DeJesus of the routine that includes plenty of medicine ball work, long toss and sprinting to increase explosiveness. “You get your quick-twitch muscles going,” says Peters. “Coach Javi knows how to teach. He makes me think. He’s taught me a lot about the game.” After about six weeks of training with DeJesus, Peters attended a fall junior college showcase at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Miami pitching coach Jeff Opalewski saw Peters blaze them in at 98 mph and signed the hurler for the Danny Hayden-led RedHawks in 2022-23. Peters follows another gas-throwing Indiana native in Sam Bachman. The Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate was selected in the first round of the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. Bachman and Peters were on competing travel teams when they were of that age. A general studies major, Peters says he needs summer credits to complete his associate’s degree. Peters has been assigned to the MLB Draft League’s Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), where ex-big leaguer Homer Bush is the manager, former 14-year major league lefty Ron Mahay in the pitching coach and Craig Antush the assistant pitching coach. That season begins Besides DeJesus, Peters is also thankful for mentoring by Ivy Tech head coach Connor Wilkins and Titans assistant Scott Bickel. “(Coach Wilkins) is great role model,” says Peters, 21. “He’s helped me become a more mature person. He is a great example. “(Coach Bickel) was the person I really looked to when my parents (Matt and Laurie) got divorced. “I’ve had a lot of people who’ve helped me. My brother (David Peters) has pushed me very hard.” Matt is the youngest of three with sister Rachel being the oldest. Drew Buffenbarger and Mark Flueckiger are also Ivy Tech coaches. The program was established by Lance Hershberger, who was head coach from 2018-21. Because of the savings, Peters transferred to National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Ivy Tech from NJCAA D-I Hillsborough Community College (Tampa, Fla.) where he spent the spring of 2021 after being at NJCAA D-III Oakton Community College (Des Plaines, Ill.) in the fall of 2020. It was while throwing at an indoor facility during winter break that Peters was spotted and presented with the opportunity to play in Florida. A starter for Ivy Tech, he was a reliever for the Hillsbourgh Hawks and Oakton Owls. Peters did not pitch during the summer of 2020 and was with the College Summer league at Grand Park’s Snapping Turtles in 2021. Robb Wicks was the head coach. At Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School, Peters was on the baseball team as a freshman, sophomore and senior and was cut as a junior. “My flip of the switch was when I didn’t play on my Senior Night,” says Peters. Then he graduated in 2019, he was 5-9 and 160 when he graduated then hit my growth spurt his year of college. Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Peters played for the Indiana Prospects at 11 and 12 then for Indiana Baseball Factory from 13 to 17. The latter team was coached and organized by his father. The Prospects were started by uncle Mark Peters. The organization once included cousin Dillon Peters, who is now a left-handed pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Matt Peters’ four-seam fastball has the most giddy up. “I get a lot of arm-side run with the two-seamer,” says Peters. “My change-up is a slower version of my two-seamer with more depth. “My slider is good because I can throw it hard and it still has depth.” He threw one slider at 90 mph with the rest at 87 to 89 Monday at Trine. DeJesus showed him grips let him try to execute. “Matt has been an absolute joy to work with,” says DeJesus. “I have not called one single pitch of Matt’s “Pitchers and catcher have to work together. That’s how the they learn the game. They get a feel what they’re doing and give me the feedback. “A young man has a mind and he’s got to use it.”
Since Landon Weins has arrived on the Purdue University campus no one has pitched more innings out of the bullpen than the 6-foot-2 right-hander. Going into the the April 14-16 series at Penn State (the April 12 game against Purdue has been postponed), Weins (rhymes with Wines) has taken the bump for the Boilermakers 28 times totaling 54 innings. This spring, the senior is 3-2 with a 2.48 earned run average, 27 strikeouts and nine walks for a squad that is 21-7. The 2018 graduate of Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School embraces the relief role because he see it as the best way he can contribute to the team. “A lot of times I’m coming in behind a guy like Jackson Smeltz who is pretty dominant and he can get us ahead as well,” says Weins, who pitched for head coach Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 2019 and 2020. “I really enjoy (coming out of the bullpen). It gives me time to see the hitters and what they prefer and what they’re struggling with that day.” Between in-game observation, video and scouting reports, Purdue pitchers have a pretty good idea of what to expect from an opposing offense. Weins uses a three-pitch mix — fastball, slider and change-up. “I made a really big adjustment in the off-season and my slider has become probably my best pitch this year,” says Weins. “Mine has like a gyro spin. It’ll come in straight and then go down and away from a right-handed hitter. “It’s like a curveball, but it’s flat and usually harder.” The slider can be thrown in any count. “I feel pretty comfortable with all three of my pitches,” says Weins. “Anytime I’m out there I want to compete as hard as I can.” Weins has been used in long relief with stints of 5 1/3 innings against Ohio State, 4 1/3 against South Dakota State and 4 against Bellarmine. Five other appearances have been for 2 to 2 2/3 frames. Playing for Boilers head coach Greg Goff and pitching coach Chris Marx, words of advice have carried with Weins and kept him steady. “They say remain the same,” says Weins. “Out on the mound, obviously there’s going to be days where you don’t have your best stuff. You’re going to be hit a little. You always keep your composure. If you’re going to carry around a swagger when you’re doing good, you always carry around that swagger when you’re not doing as good. “It’s such a quick game that can humble you very fast. But just because you have one bad day doesn’t mean it needs to lead to more.” There’s a rule after an outing — good or bad — that keeps players moving forward and not looking back. “We says flush it at midnight,” says Weins. The son of Scott and Angela Weins watched older brother Logan Weins (a 2014 Frankton graduate who pitched mostly in relief at Western Kentucky University 2015-17) on the diamond before him. “He’s probably one of my biggest impacts in his game,” says Landon of Logan. “Growing up he was always someone I could look up to. He just did things the right way. He’s definitely been my No. 1 supporter. He pushed me the hardest and gave me the hardest criticism that I needed to hear. (My parents) have always been a huge support system for me in no matter what I do or choose.” Landon played in the Frankton Town & Country Baseball before moving into travel ball at 10. He was with the Indiana Bandits followed by Indiana Magic and Indiana Nitro. He spent his 17U summer with the Indiana Bulls. Brad Douglas was — and still is — the head baseball coach at Frankton. “He’s a great guy and always been one to have my back if I ever needed anything,” says Weins of Douglas. “I loved playing for him. “He had a fire to him that I definitely didn’t like, especially when he was getting on me. “I appreciated him a lot more when I got into college than I did in high school because I was able to look back and see he wanted what was best for me and our team. He just pushed us to be our best.” As a Selling and Sales Management major at Purdue, Weins needs at least one more semester to get his bachelor’s degree. He chose that field of study in part because it fits his personality. “I definitely enjoy being a social person and talking,” says Weins. “I’ve met a lot of different people throughout the game of baseball. I’ve made many connections.”
An investment has been made in the future of baseball at Western Boone Junior/Senior High School in Thorntown, Ind., and Michael Nance is part of it. After coaching travel ball in the community, in the junior high program that feeds the high school and helping at the high school level, Nance was hired in July 2021 to guide the Webo Stars. The junior high team has players in Grades 6-8 and plays 12 to 14 games in the spring. Nance reached out to Western Boone Little League and a partnership was formed. The Western Boone Baseball Club offers instruction on Sundays to players age 9 to 12 not involved in travel ball. “It’s an opportunity to get these kids more baseball reps all year,” says Nance. Out of that came 12U and 10U club teams that offer additional games to the Little League schedule. Knowing his current players and what’s in the pipeline, Nance is upbeat in leading a program which produced five varsity victories in 2019 and four in 2021. “I think we can win,” says Nance. “I’m very excited about the next six or eight years from what I can see coming.” Western Boone’s four seniors are Casey Baird, Will Barta, Evan Hine and Mitch Miller. Baird, who has committed to Franklin (Ind.) College for football, will be called on to play multiple positions, including shortstop, second base, catcher and relief pitcher. Barta is a designated hitter. Georgetown (Ky.) College-bound Evan Hine (.325 average with a team-best .509 on-base percentage in 2021) is a third baseman. Miller, who led the Stars with .349 average last season, is a center fielder and lead-off hitter. There’s also junior first baseman Andrew Foster, sophomore left-handed pitcher/right fielder Jackson Grimes, sophomore right-hander/left fielder Luke Jackson, sophomore righty/shortstop Bryce Kopriva, sophomore catcher and clean-up hitter Cole Wiley and freshman second baseman Gavin Hawkins. Nance labels Kopriva, Jackson and Grimes as 1, 1A and 1B on his pitching staff. He points out that athletic Hawkins was the No. 1 singles player in tennis and played on the junior varsity team in basketball. Former Marian University pitcher Gabe Westerfeld is a varsity assistant coach and the program’s pitching coordinator. “We are really, really young on the mound,” says Nance. “Gabe has our young guys believing and there have been velocity increases.” Eric Gubera is JV coach and is also in charge of outfielders and base runners. He has coached with Nance in the summer since their sons were 8. Two years ago, they became affiliated with the Indiana Braves. This summer, they will guide the 12U Indiana Yard Goats — a squad that includes six players from Western Boone, three from Avon and one from Brownsburg player. Nance, who was a catcher at Lebanon (Ind.) High School, Ancilla College (Donaldson, Ind.) and MacMurray College (Jacksonsonville, Ill.), handles catchers, infielders and hitters. There are 22 players in the program and all practice together. Western Boone (enrollment around 510) is a member of the Sagamore Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Tri-West Hendricks). The Stars are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Clinton Prairie, Delphi (2022 host), Fountain Central and Seeger. Western Boone has won two sectional titles — 1982 and 1983. Western Boone is scheduled to open the 2022 season with three games this weekend in Unionville, Tenn., south of Nashville. An optional part of the spring break trip is attending Sunday’s Tennessee at Vanderbilt college game. The Stars play home contests on-campus with side-by-side varsity and JV diamonds north of the school building. This year, the Stars got new brick dust for the infield and new wind screens for the outfield as well as a Hack machine and new L screens. At the end of the season, lights will go up. “It’s a really nice place to play,” says Nance. A 2004 Lebanon graduate, Nance played for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray. “He demanded a lot but got more out kids than they knew they were capable,” says Nance. “You knew he really loved the game. He was always so upbeat and positive. “I have nothing but admiration for Coach Cosgray. I try to run my program like him.” Nance played for two head coaches at Ancilla — Rockie Dodds and Joe Yonto. “(Yonto) had a profound impact on me,” says Nance. “He showed me how to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand (through eye-specific muscle training.” In Nance’s last year at MacMurray, former high school coach Fred Curtis led the Highlanders. “He just loved the game,” says Nance. “He said if you do the fundamentals right and not walk people, you can win ball games.” Nance says he also appreciates the mentoring and assistance he’s received from men also leading high school programs — among them Matthew Cherry (Fishers), Troy Drosche (Avon) and Andy Dudley (Frankfort). “There’s been such support from the coaching community,” says Nance. “They’ve been willing to help.” Nance earned a Special Education degree at MacMurray and a masters in Criminal Justice from Xavier University in Cincinnati. This summer will mark 15 years with Boone County Community Corrections. After starting out as a probation officer, he is now executive director. Michael and wife Emily (who played softball at Manchester University and MacMurray and now works in cancer research at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) have a son and daughter attending Thorntown Elementary — Easton (12) and Harper (10). He enjoys tennis, baseball and duck hunting. She likes soccer and plays travel softball with the Indiana Magic.
Jeff Enright sees baseball as more than just physical. There’s what goes on between the ears, too. “Baseball is kind of a unique sport,” says Enright, the head coach at Wheeler (Ind.) High School since the summer of 2019. “There’s so much thought that goes into every position and every pitch. “There’s the mental approach and how to overcome short-term adversity.” Players will face a bad call by the umpire or have a sure hit robbed by a great catch, but they must move forward or it becomes a negative. “That’s what I enjoy most about coaching baseball,” says Enright. “You try to put them in healthy stressful situations as much as you can during the off-season. “You make them uncomfortable and failing and then you build them back up.” Enright equates mental training with mental health. “These kids are 14 to 18,” says Enright. “They are still growing emotionally. Their highs are too high and lows too low.” The coach goes for even-keel. “We say you’re never as bad or as good as you think you are,” says Enright. “We talk about it all the time.” For every four practices on the baseball field, the Bearcats are in the class room going over the last few practices or games. Enright likes to do this debriefing on a rainy day. Wheeling won the program’s sixth sectional title in 2021. While right-handed pitcher Rex Stills (9-1, 1.37 earned run average, 100 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings) and infielder Sean Conroy have moved on — Stills to Purdue Fort Wayne and Conroy to Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif. Returnees for 2022 include senior outfielder Nehemiah Parrish, senior catcher/outfielder Dylan Passauer, senior corner infielder/right-hander Kole Hutcheson, junior shortstop Kris Kingery, junior right-hander/outifleder Mason Leckrone, sophomore utility man Mark Johnson, sophomore right-hander Lucas McNamara and sophomore third baseman/designated hitter Jackson Smith. Parrish, who plans to enter the U.S. Marines after graduation, hit .414 with 30 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases in 2021. Passauer has committed to the University of Northwestern Ohio. Kingery is expected to be the Bearcats’ lead-off hitter. Leckrone and Hutcheson are likely the team’s top two starting pitchers. Johnson (.317, 13 RBI) and Smith (.355, 19 RBI) are coming off solid offensive seasons. Of the 21 players in the program, most are juniors and sophomores. “For a (Class) 2A school we’re pretty deep this year,” says Enright. Wheeler (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting). With the addition of Illiana Christian, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Wheeler is paired with Calumet New Tech, Lake Station Edision, River Forest and Whiting. The Bearcats do not have a conference JV schedule but has scheduled JV games on days when the varsity does not play. “I want to get the young guys some reps,” says Enright. Wheeler is part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting (host). Enright’s varsity assistant is Joe Kennedy, who was a player for Enright at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. Enright was an assistant for the 2013 Class 4A Illinois state champions. JV coaches are Union Township Middle School teacher Sean Cunningham and Alex Hutman (Wheeler Class of 2021). Wheeler is due to get new baseball and softball fields with turf. First up is the turfing of the football field. The diamonds will be located on the other end of the property from their current locations. “It may not be pure baseball in the traditional sense, but as soon as it stops raining you can play,” says Enright of playing on turf. “In our area of the country it’s tough to get a baseball season in in the spring.” Wheeler is small incorporated Valparaiso community. The feeder system for the baseball program include Union Township Little League (T-ball through Senior League for middle schoolers). Enright estimates that around 75 percent of players are with travel organizations, including Triple Crown Valparaiso, 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs and Cangelosi Sparks (Lockport, Ill.). Some also play American Legion ball for Post 502 Blaze coached by Bob Wineland. An alum of Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Ill. (1995), Enright with a double major in History and Political Science from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1999. He went to Chicago-Kent College of Law and practiced product liability law at Schiff Hardin LLC in Chicago. It was while clerking for a judge during law school that he got the idea that he might one day want to go into education. He teaches History and U.S. Government at Wheeler. Before landing with the Bearcats, Enright was head coach at Calumet Tech. The 11 years prior to that was spent at Mount Carmel. He moved up from freshmen coach to sophomore coach and varsity assistant while working with Caravan head coach Brian Hurry. “I learned most about coaching from him,” says Enright of Hurry. “The biggest thing was how to have a personal relationship with each kid to try to maximize their potential.” A member of the Chicago Catholic League, Mount Carmel players are recruited while in middle school. “We get to know them in sixth and seventh grade as you’re trying to entice them to come to your school,” says Enright. “You hope you know how they tick.” During his time at Mount Carmel, the baseball community rallied over a series of tragedies. Complications of a heart defect took Steven “Stevie” M. Bajenski in 2009 (the first Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Baseball Tournament was played in 2012). The Caravan also lost a coach to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and another player passed on July 4. “It brought everybody closer together,” says Enright. “Everybody was reeling.” Jeff and wife Kerry have three children in the Union Township School Corporation — junior Emily (16), eighth grader Sarah (14) and sixth grader Jack (11).
Creating confidence is major goal for Phillip Reynolds as head baseball coach for Dugger (Ind.) Union Junior/Senior High School. “I don’t focus on the X’s and O’s as much as some coaches do,” says Reynolds, who has been in charge of the Bulldogs program since just before the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020 after a season as an assistant coach. “I buy into my players and give them the tools to build themselves. If they don’t believe in themselves it doesn’t matter. “We’re getting kids to step out of their comfort zone. They’re going through skill training and learning how to move their feet. We’re showing them they can hit a baseball. We’re building from the ground up here.” Dugger Union won three games in 2021. That’s the highest total in years. “All of my boys are excited to be back and go again (for 2022),” says Reynolds, who hopes to have around around 21 players for a varsity-only schedule this spring. “The boys are really starting to buy into the program. Three years ago we had just 11 kids.” Dugger was formerly in the Northeast School Corporation of Sullivan County. In December 2013, NESC voted to close Union High School and Dugger Elementary. The school became a Grace College-affiliated charter school and operates as Dugger Union Community Schools. There are about 200 students in the top four grades. “Dugger has come a long way from where it used to be,” says Reynolds. “The administration pushes the students to be the best they can be.” The 2022 season will mark the last of the Bulldogs’ probation from IHSAA tournament play. Located about 25 miles from the Indiana-Illinois State Line, Dugger Union holds membership in athletic conferences in both states — the Southern Roads Conference (with Cannelton, Columbus Christian, Christian Academy of Madison, Lighthouse Christian Academy of Bloomington, Medora, Pleasant View Christian of Montgomery and Seven Oaks Classical of Ellettsville) in Indiana and the Little Okaw Valley Conference (with Martinsville, Oblong-Palestine-Hutsonville and Red Hill) in Illinois. In the SRC, only Dugger Union, Cannelton and Columbus Christian currently have baseball. Reynolds was born in Texas and moved around as an “U.S. Army brat.” He played Little League while living in Oklahoma. The 2001 graduate of nearby Linton-Stockton High School retired after a 12 1/2-year hitch in the Army — which include time in Georgia where he was a Little League coach — and is a substitute teacher at Dugger Union. The father of four from a previous marriage also enjoys hunting and fishing. Phillip’s wife Joanie (who has a daughter living at home) is an assistant coach. He is looking to recruit more help. The Bulldogs play on a field a half mile from the school. It is a community-shared field with a skinned infield. “It is very, very fast,” says Reynolds. “We understand our field. I tell them at away games (on grass infields) it’s not going to come to them as fast as it is on our field.” A local youth league goes to age 12. “The last two years we were getting freshmen that haven’t played in a couple years,” says Reynolds. “I think we have enough for an actual junior high team this year. “It’s baby steps.” Dugger Union is scheduled to open the season March 29 against visiting Martinsville (Ill.). The Bulldogs have been invited to return to a tournament hosted by Evansville Bosse May 21. In between, there are scheduled dates with Bosse, Cannelton, Cloverdale, Columbus Christian, Crothersville, Eastern Greene, Greencastle, Lawrenceville (Ill.), North Central (Farmersburg), North Vermillion, Oblong, Red Hill, Robinson, Shoals, Vincennes Rivet and Wood Memorial.
Friday night starter Austin Peterson has been sitting batters down at a consistent pace so far in 2022. The 6-foot-6 senior right-handed pitcher has made four starts for the University of Connecticut and was 2-0 with 44 strikeouts and five walks in 24 2/3 innings heading into the Week of March 14-20. A 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, Peterson played at Purdue and Wabash Valley College before winding up at UConn. Peterson is more than one of 120 players from Indiana high schools (or hometowns) on NCAA Division I rosters outside the state. Many are key contributors. Freshman right-hander Casey Sorg (Floyd Central) sported a 1.59 ERA in five mound appearances for Bellarmine, a squad with nine Indiana products on a team led by Jeffersonville alum Larry Owens. Sophomore outfielder Carson Husmann (South Central of Union Mills) was hitting .318 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in for Bradley. Senior outfielder Damon Lux (Shelbyville) had driven in 12 runs for Duke. Redshirt junior right-hander Blake Malatestnic (Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter) was 3-0 with a 2.82 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings for Eastern Illinois. Sophomore second baseman Tim Borden II (Providence) was hitting .316 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Georgia Tech. Freshman outfielder Jared Comia (Hanover Central) was hitting .283 with two homers and eight RBIs for Illinois. Redshirt senior catcher/first baseman Nolan Metcalf (Penn) was hitting .306 with nine RBIs for Kansas. Senior right-hander Jack Myers (Indianapolis Cathedral) had 16 strikeouts in 19 innings for Kennesaw State. Sophomore left-hander Michael Dunkelberger (South Bend Saint Joseph) was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA for Lipscomb. Senior right-hander Jared Poland (Indianapolis Cathedral) was 1-1 with 1.38 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings for Louisville. Redshirt sophomore J.J. Woolwine (Fishers) was hitting .439 with one homer and eight RBIs and freshman right-hander Luke Leverton (Seton Catholic) was 1-0 with 1.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in innings for Miami (Ohio). Senior shortstop Riley Bertram (ZIonsville Community) was hitting .293 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Michigan. Sophomore outfielder Roman Kuntz (New Prairie) was hitting .370 with three homers and 10 RBIs for Morehead State. Freshman right-hander Landon Kruer (Providence) was 1-0 with 1.59 ERA for Navy. Redshirt junior outfielder Trevyn Moss (Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran) was hitting .274 with one homer, one triple and 14 RBIs for Northern Kentucky. Redshirt junior shortstop Xavier Haendiges (Salem) was hitting .353 for Ohio. Junior right-hander Bayden Root (Kokomo) was 1.0 with a 2.61 ERA in six appearances for Oklahoma State. Senior right-hander Cameron Pferrer (Carmel) was 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings for Saint Louis. Freshman Nick Mitchell (Carmel) was hitting .357 with eight RBIs for Western Illinois. Junior infielder/outfielder Matthew Meyer (Westfield) was hitting .260 with one homer and 11 RBIs for Western Kentucky. Senior outfielder Ryan Missal (Lowell) was hitting .257 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Western Michigan. Sophomore first baseman Julian Greenwell (Columbus East) was hitting .310 with one homer and nine RBIs. There’s several more coaches with Indiana prep roots — head coach Billy Gernon (New Albany) and associate head coach Adam Piotrowicz (John Glenn) at Western Michigan, head coach Eric Wedge (Fort Wayne Northrop) at Wichita State and assistants Jared Broughton (Indianapolis Lutheran) at Clemson, Nick McIntyre (McCutcheon) at Toledo, Justin Parker (Fort Wayne Wayne) at South Carolina, Matt Reida (Western) at Alabama and Bobby Rinard (Mishwawaka Marian) at Dixie State.
INDIANA D-I PLAYERS OUTSIDE STATE 2022 Alabama So. IF Bryce Eblin (Center Grove) Volunteer Assistant Coach Matt Reida (Western)
Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas. The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas. Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton. Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games. He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood. Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL. When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on. “I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine. “I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.” Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47. Any significance to to those digits? “Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?” Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate. “There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.” Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position. “You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great. “(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.” Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life. “People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.” Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages. “I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.” “I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.” As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization). “I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general. “He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.” Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.