Jeremy Wiersema left the diamond behind for a time. When he came back, he started to excel on the baseball field for Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., especially on the base paths. The Allendale (Mich.) High School graduate was a standout in soccer, football, basketball and baseball during his prep days. He was all-state as a kicker/punter as well as all-conference and all-district in baseball and all-conference in basketball and soccer. Wiersema stayed near home to be a football kicker at Grand Valley State University in Allendale. When that experience didn’t meet his expectations he decided to follow another Allendale alum — Cooper Tolson — to Bethel baseball. Wiersema redshirted in his first football season at GVSU. The next year the season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I really didn’t like it that much,” says Wiersema. “We’d have five-hour practices and only kicking for 15 minutes. It’s not very fun. “My buddy Cooper texted me. He said (Bethel) needs middle infielders.” Next thing you know Wiersema is at Bethel — joining the baseball team for the spring semester in 2020 — and working toward a Sport Management degree. He will get that next month. With another year of college athletic eligibility, Wiersema is considering coming back in the fall. Only he’s thinking about changing to golf. “I just like to switch up,” says Wiersema, who carries a 3.7 handicap. Wiersema and first baseman Tolson were two of six Bethel baseball players honored Friday, April 21 on Senior Day. The others are center fielder Andrew Miranda, third baseman Alex Stout and pitchers Hunter Crist and Sam Lewandowski. In 2023, Wiersema, has been at or near the top among NAIA leaders in stolen bases. After the Pilots’ first 44 games, he was No. 1 with 40 (in 44 attempts). LSU Shreveport senior Ryan Major was second with 39. Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus freshman Wyatt Sutton was fourth with 35. Along the way Wiersema has surpassed the Bethel single-season record of 37 set by Kawambe Moss is 2021. “I just like to do it,” says Wiersema of pilfering bags. “I’ve done it more in college because I’ve figured out the pitching and whatnot and how to steal bases.” Wiersema stole 22 in 2022 and has copped multiple bases in a game a dozen times, including four and three against Taylor and three twice vs. Indiana Wesleyan and once vs. Marian. Batting No. 2 in Bethel coach Seth Zartman’s order, the righty-swinging second baseman is hitting .379 with 15 doubles, four home runs, 26 runs batted in and 37 runs scored. His on-base percentage is .413. “I try to come to the (batter’s) box with a clear mindset,” says Wiersema. “I just really try to focus on driving the ball and hitting it hard somewhere and from there just hustling to first base. “I’m trying to get on every time. I have a green light (from Zartman). I go off what I feel and my reads.” The oversized sliding glove — which looks like an oven mitt — has become prevalent in baseball the last few years. Wiersema now wears one on his right hand but not for necessarily for sliding. “I didn’t even use one last year,” says Wiersema. “In the first game of the season we were traveling south and I jammed a finger on my right hand. “(The glove) is just there to protect it.” Bethel has four more regular-season games left — Crossroads League doubleheaders Friday and Saturday, April 28-29 — at Grace. If the Pilots qualify for the league tournament, that is slated May 3-8 at Huntington.
The 2023 season has begun most of Indiana’s 39 baseball-playing colleges and universities. All 10 NCAA Division I schools opened up Friday, Feb. 17. Purdue and Southern Indiana enjoyed 3-1 weekends. It was the first games for the Tracy Archuleta-coached Screaming Eagles since moving up from NCAA D-II. Butler’s Blake Beemer picked up his first two wins as a collegiate head coach. Shawn Stiffler earned his first triumph as head coach at Notre Dame. At the D-II level, Indianapolis racked up 62 runs in a three-game sweep of Notre Dame College. D-III Wabash — coached by Jake Martin — went 3-0 with wins against three different foes. The only other Indiana school in the division to get started was DePauw (1-1). The other seven are slated to start this week. NAIA boasts 15 Indiana schools and some have been going for weeks. The hottest starters are Oakland City (11-1), Huntington (6-1), Bethel (6-3) and Grace (5-2). Andy Lasher’s OCU Mighty Oaks are coming off a 3-1 weekend. Huntington is in its first season with Thad Frame as Foresters head coach. This is the hottest start for Bethel since the Seth Zartman-led Pilots began 15-2, including 11-1 in the fall. Ryan Roth’s Grace Lancers are coming off a 3-1 weekend against Aquinas. Indiana University Purdue University at Columbus launched its program and it’s first victory under Pride head coach Scott Bickel came Feb. 12 against Huntington. Jared Ross socked the first home run in program history. In junior college ball, Chris Barney’s 3-4 Vincennes Trailblazers won their last two games.
Saturday, Feb. 4 Blue Mountain 4, Bethel 3 Bethel 4, Blue Mountain 3 Tennessee Southern 14, Calumet of St. Joseph 3 Tennessee Southern 7, Calumet of St. Joseph 6 Union 9, Goshen 5 Union 14, Goshen 1 IU-Kokomo 14, Cumberland 7 IU-Kokomo 15, St. Andrews 2 IU South Bend 6, Thomas More 1 West Virginia Tech 1, IU South Bend 0 Georgia Gwinnett 5, Indiana Wesleyan 3
Sunday, Feb. 5 Calumet of St. Joseph 23, Tennessee Southern 14 Tennessee Southern 17, Calumet of St. Joseph 11 Union 6, Goshen 0 Union 7, Goshen 5 Lindsey Wilson 5, IU South Bend 3 Culver-Stockton 5, Marian 4 Faulkner 9, Marian 6 Oakland City 13, Johnson 5 Oakland City 6, Johnson 2
Monday, Feb. 6 Cumberlands 7, IU Southeast 6 Oakland City 4, Johnson 3 Thursday, Feb. 9 Indiana Wesleyan 12, Cumberland 12 (13 inn.)
Friday, Feb. 10 Bethel 7, Champion Christian 3 Bethel 10, Champion Christian 4 Oakland City 5, Calumet of St. Joseph 1 Grace 2, Trinity International 1 Grace 3, Trinity International 2 Huntington 11, IUPU-Columbus 0 Huntington 4, IUPU-Columbus 3 IU-Kokomo 7, Truett McConnell 0 Truett McConnell 13, IU-Kokomo 2 Tennessee Southern 3, IU South Bend 0 Tennessee Southern 7, IU South Bend 0 Indiana Wesleyan 11, Cumberland 7 Freed-Hardeman 10, Saint Francis 0 Freed-Hardeman 13, Saint Francis 4 Georgia Gwinnett 9, Taylor 4 Georgia Gwinnett 8, Taylor 1
Saturday, Feb. 11 Bethel 9, Champion Christian 1 Bethel 13, Champion Christian 0 Oakland City 10, Calumet of St. Joseph 0 Oakland City 9, Calumet of St. Joseph 3 Grace 3, Trinity International 2 Truett McConnell 20, IU-Kokomo 19 Tennessee Southern 5, IU South Bend 3 Tennessee Southern 10, IU South Bend 6 Columbia College 9, IU Southeast 4 Columbia College 4, IU Southeast 3 Indiana Wesleyan 11, Cumberland 7 Marian 5, Tougaloo 1 Marian 17, Tougaloo 4 Freed-Hardeman 2, Saint Francis 1 Freed-Hardeman 8, Saint Francis 7 Georgia Gwinnett 6, Taylor 4
Sunday, Feb. 12 IUPU-Columbus 5, Huntington 2 Huntington 14, IUPU-Columbus 5 Columbia College 11, IU Southeast 4 Marian 7, Tougaloo 2
Wednesday, Feb. 15 Taylor 30, IUPU-Columbus 1
Friday, Feb. 17 Ecclesia 6, Goshen 2 Middle Georgia State 11, IU-Kokomo 0 IU-Kokomo 11, Middle Georgia State 1 Webber International 6, IU Southeast 5 Taylor 6, Point Park 2 (10 inn.)
Saturday, Feb. 18 Bethel 7, Oakland City 4 Oakland City 6, Bethel 4 Ecclesia 4, Goshen 3 Goshen 16, Ecclesia 0 Grace 9, Aquinas 7 Aquinas 10, Grace 9 (10 inn.) Huntington 3, Saint Xavier 0 Huntington 11, Saint Xavier 0 Indiana Tech 11, Midway 10 (10 inn.) Middle Georgia State 3, IU-Kokomo 0 Middle Georgia State 7, IU-Kokomo 4 Marian 19, IUPU-Columbus 10 Marian 9, IUPU-Columbus 8 IU South Bend 6, Culver-Stockton 4 IU South Bend 9, Culver-Stockton 3 Lindsey Wilson 12, Indiana Wesleyan 11 (10 inn.) Lindsey Wilson 13, Indiana Wesleyan 8 Tennessee Southern 10, Saint Francis 5 Saint Francis 7, Tennessee Southern 0 (8 inn.) Taylor 15, IU Southeast 5 (8 inn.) William Carey 12, Taylor 3
Sunday, Feb. 19 Aquinas 14, Grace 9 Grace 16, Aquinas 11 Huntington 10, Georgetown College 5 Midway 10, Indiana Tech 8 Indiana Tech 12, Midway 7 Culver-Stockton 11, IU South Bend 4 IU South Bend 9, Culver-Stockton 8 Rheinhardt 11, IU Southeast 2 Oakland City 7, Marian 4 Oakland City 4, Marian 2 Saint Francis 7, Tennessee Southern 5 Saint Francis 23, Tennessee Southern 8
Eric Hilton is breaking baseball down to the basic elements as head coach at Crothersville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School. In his second year leading the Jackson County-based Tigers in 2021-22, Hilton wants his players throwing to the correct bases and knowing situations. “It’s basics and fundamentals,” says Hilton. “We’ve been working on it in the off-season. We are making progress in that area.” In 2020-21, Crothersville had just one athlete who had played any baseball in the last four years. To have enough players to field a team, there were 10 boys and four girls. There were too few girls for a softball squad. Crothersville (enrollment around 125) is a member of the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Henryville, Lanesville, New Washington and South Central (Elizabeth). In 2021, the Tigers were part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with New Washington (host), Shawe Memorial and West Washington. Crothersville has not yet won a sectional title. At such a small school, participation numbers have always been an issue. Then came the pandemic. “A lot of kids didn’t return to baseball after COVID (took away the 2020 season),” says Hilton. “They found other things to do.” But things are looking up for the spring of 2022. Fourteen different boys have participated in off-season activities and 21 signed up recently with the intention of coming out for baseball. “We have very decent numbers,” says Hilton, who counts Rita Fletcher as an assistant with another four or five possibles. Three players — senior catcher/pitcher/third baseman Matthew Clouse, sophomore catcher/pitcher/second baseman Logen O’Sullivan and sophomore shortstop/center fielder Lucas Hilton (the coach’s oldest son) — have indicated their desire to play college baseball. Junior high baseball, which is played in nearby communities like Austin, Brownstown, Seymour and Scottsburg, has not been present at Crothersville for a few years. Hilton hopes to bring that back in the next few years. Right now the Crothersville Youth League (T-ball to age 14) serves as a feeder program. Before taking the job at Crothersville, Hilton coached Lucas with travel ball teams, including the Southern Indiana Venom, Blazers and The Swings. A 1995 graduate of Seymour High School, Hilton played baseball for the Owls as a freshman and sophomore. He was also in football as a ninth grader and then went to soccer. He graduated at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus and graduated from Ashworth University in Peachtree Corners, Ga. He is in grocery merchandising with the Louisville division of the Kroger Co., working with 116 stores. Eric and Jennifer Hilton have been married 17 years. Lucas Hilton is 16 and Tyler Hilton 12.