If 2023 truly is the final baseball season for Ivy Tech Northeast Community College — a two-year institution in Fort Wayne, Ind. — bitterness is not an emotion displayed by the Titans as they look to finish strong. Ivy Tech Community College Board of Trustees voted 8-1 April 7, 2022 to discontinue athletics at the Northeast campus after 2022-23. “At this point I’ve pretty much heard we’re done,” says Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Connor Wilkins, who was an assistant to Lance Hershberger when the program began in 2017-18. “I haven’t heard of anything miraculous happening. “It’s not something we really talk about a lot. We’re just grateful for the team we have right now and getting to play out the rest of the year.” Wilkins and his players are staying positive. “I’ve got a good group of guys this year that buy into our identity,” says Wilkins. “They’re really trying to become great at what we teach as a baseball team — execution, bunt, steal, be selfless, an RBI approach with a guy at third, battle with two strikes and just try to do all the little things right. “I’m very proud of the young men we’ve turned out.” The Titans played their final “home” game at Shoaff Park Thursday, April 20 and beat Adrian JV 17-7. With a sense of gratitude, the team heads into the final week of the regular season. Pending the hiring of umpires, Ivy Tech was to play Lourdes JV today (Monday, April 24) at World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne. Away dates are slated Tuesday against Jackson (Mich.) Community College and Northwestern Ohio JV (doubleheader) Thursday. More games may be added for the weekend. By maintaining a record of .500 or better against D-I and D-II junior colleges, the Titans have qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association D-II sub-regional playoffs May 4 at Sports Force Park in Sandusky, Ohio. The four-team single-elimination event will also feature the No. 2, 3 and 4 teams from the Ohio Community College Athletic Association, likely Bryant & Stratton, Edison State and Lakeland or Clark State. The winner advances to the eight-team regional. The first round is slated for May 11-12 features three-game series with No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. The four survivors play May 18-20 in the double-elimination second round to determine a qualifier for the NJCAA D-II World Series May 27-June 2/3 in Enid, Okla. The nature of junior college baseball is coaches working the phones to get athletes connected with their next school. “It was heightened this year because you have to find freshmen homes, too,” says Wilkins. “We’re excited. Most of our sophomores who are undecided are very close to making decisions.” Several Ivy Tech players have found a landing spot for 2023-24 and the others are considering their options and offers. Redshirt sophomores Noah Mattheson and William Myklebust are committed to the University Northwestern Ohio (NAIA). Among sophomore commits, there’s Gage Smith (NCAA Division I Southern Indiana), Grant Collins (NCAA D-II Purdue Northwest), Adam Besser (NAIA Indiana Tech) and Kaleb Fritz (NAIA Ottawa University in Arizona). Wilkins says sophs Justin Bultemeier, Mannuk Cadiz, Zachary Green, Logan Greer, Brayden Dockery, William Johnson, Andrew Lion, Jaycob McCullough, Johnny Sewell, Aiden Thompson and Tarron White are undecided. Freshmen Ivan Balboa and Max Shultz have indicated they will go to NJCAA South Suburban. Other freshman commits are Kail Baughman (NAIA Calumet of St. Joseph), Brandon Lehman (NAIA Roosevelt) and Hayden Lowe (NJCAA Jackson). Freshmen that are currently undecided include Samuel Dunlavey, Cal Ostrowski, Joey Spin, Nathan Tappenden and Brock Thornton. Besides Wilkins, the Ivy Tech coaching staff includes pitching coach Javier DeJesus and infield coach Drew Buffenbarger. DeJesus is also hospital administrator and instructor at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy in Fort Wayne. Wilkins is a dual-credit advisor and Buffenbarger an admissions specialist at Ivy Tech Northeast. Connor and wife Alana have two daughters — Rey (3) and Margot (9 months). The youngest was born just before baseball Ivy Tech activities began last fall.
Indiana Wesleyan steals bases at the rate of 4.18 per game. Led by Lucas Goodin (25), M.J. Stavola (23), Caleb Engelsman (20) and Jake Thompson (18), the NAIA Wildcats have swiped 134 as a team — the most among all 39 college baseball teams in Indiana so far in 2023. Among NAIA teams, IUPU-Columbus (97) is next, followed by Oakland City (71), Huntington (69), Bethel (62), Grace (59), IU-Kokomo (55), Saint Francis (48), Marian (39), IU Southeast (38), Taylor (36), Calumet of St. Joseph (34), IU South Bend (33), Indiana Tech (29) and Goshen (14). Paced by Couper Cornblum (14), Mike Bolton Jr. (12) and Evan Albrecht (11), Purdue (56) leads NCAA D-I teams. Next is Southern Indiana (36), Ball State (31), Notre Dame (30), Evansville (29), Indiana (27), Butler (24), Purdue Fort Wayne (23), Indiana State (15) and Valparaiso (15). Guiding NCAA D-II leader Indianapolis (62) is Caleb Vaughn (21), Jared Bujdos (11) and Easton Good (10). Purdue Northwest (19) is the state’s other D-II program. NCAA D-III base pilferers are Earlham (53), Franklin (53), Anderson (24), Manchester (33), DePauw (21), Hanover (21), Wabash (21), Trine (18) and Rose-Hulman (16). Nathan Lancianese (10) is out front for Earlham with Tysen Lipscomb (11) and A.J. Sanders (10) spearheading Franklin. Among junior college teams, there’s Ivy Tech Northeast (52), Vincennes (50) and Marian’s Ancilla (20). Ivan Balboa (13) leads Ivy Tech and Ethan Burdette (13) Vincennes.
A check of D-I standings sees Ball State in first in the Mid-American Conference, Indiana tied for first in the Big Ten Conference and Indiana State tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference. In NCAA D-IIII, Rose-Hulman is in first in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and Trine atop the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Associaton. In the NAIA, Indiana Wesleyan leads the Crossroads League. The top current win streaks are owned by NAIA Indiana University Southeast 11, NCAA D-III Rose-Hulman six, NCAA D-III Franklin five, NAIA Indiana Wesleyan four and NCAA D-I Indiana three.
Below are season records, weekly results and links to web pages, schedules and statistics.
Through April 2 NCAA D-I Tuesday, March 28 Ball State 7, Southern Indiana 6 (11 inn.) Notre Dame 4, Butler 0 Indiana 4, Kent State 3 Indiana State 8, Purdue 2 Bowling Green 7, Purdue Fort Wayne 4 Valparaiso 7, Milwaukee 6 (11 inn.)
Wednesday, March 29 Southeast Missouri 10, Evansville 4
Thursday, March 30
Ivy Tech Northeast 6, Indiana Tech JV 1
Ivy Tech Northeast 10, Indiana Tech JV 8
Friday, March 31 Akron 4, Ball State 0 Illinois-Chicago 10, Indiana State 7 North Carolina 10, Notre Dame 8 Purdue 8, Northwestern 4 Youngstown State 12, Purdue Fort Wayne 9 Lindenwood 6, Southern Indiana 3
Saturday, April 1 Eastern Illinois 12, Butler 0 Belmont 8, Evansville 1 Penn State 7, Indiana 2 Youngstown State 15, Purdue Fort Wayne 14 Lindenwood 6, Southern Indiana 3
Sunday, April 2 Ball State 11, Akron 6 Ball State 9, Akron 1 Butler 6, Eastern Illinois 5 (14 inn.) Butler 2, Eastern Illinois 0 Belmont 9, Evansville 2 Belmont 7, Evansville 5 (13 inn.) Indiana 4, Penn State 1 Indiana 22, Penn State 11 Indiana State 13, Illinois-Chicago 7 Indiana State 10, Illinois-Chicago 1 North Carolina 5, Notre Dame 2 Notre Dame 9, North Carolina 1 Northwestern 7, Purdue 3 Purdue 4, Northwestern 3 (10 inn.) Purdue Fort Wayne 9, Youngstown State 3 Southern Indiana 12, Lindenwood 9 Murray State 14, Valparaiso 3 Murray State 14, Valparaiso 5
NCAA D-II Monday, March 27 Grand Valley State 7, Purdue Northwest 3 Purdue Northwest 7, Grand Valley State 2
Saturday, April 1 Earlham 12, Anderson 8 Transylvania 10, Manchester 9 Transylvania 9, Manchester 0 Rose-Hulman 8, Mount St. Joseph 5
Sunday, April 2 Anderson 5, Earlham 0 Earlham 9, Anderson 8 Franklin 13, Hanover 6 Franklin 18, Hanover 8 Rose-Hulman 10, Mount St. Joseph 8 Rose-Hulman 10, Mount St. Joseph 9 Trine 5, Olivet 0 Trine 7, Olivet 3 Denison 10, Wabash 4 Denison 11, Wabash 1
NAIA Monday, March 27 Indiana Wesleyan 19, Goshen 0 Mount Vernon Nazarene 10, Grace 4 Grace 4, Mount Vernon Nazarene 2 Ohio Christian 9, IU-Kokomo 8
Tuesday, March 28 Trinity Christian 15, Calumet of St. Joseph IU-Kokomo 13, Georgetown (Ky.) 4 IU South Bend 7, Judson 3
Wednesday, March 29 IU Southeast 19, Lindsey Wilson 8 Indiana Tech 16, Indiana Wesleyan 10
Thursday, March 30 Indiana Wesleyan 10, Bethel 3 Indiana Wesleyan 7, Bethel 4 Calumet of St. Joseph 7, Saint Xavier 4 Goshen 11, Grace 5 Grace 9, Goshen 7 Taylor 15, Huntington 11 Taylor 4, Huntington 2 Midway 13, IU-Kokomo 1 Midway 10, IU-Kokomo 7 Asbury 14, IUPU-Columbus 4 Asbury 12, IUPU-Columbus 8 IU Southeast 11, Oakland City 6 Marian 6, Mount Vernon Nazarene 5 Marian 5, Mount Vernon Nazarene 3 Spring Arbor 5, Saint Francis 1 Saint Francis 7, Spring Arbor 5
Friday, March 31 Indiana Wesleyan 13, Bethel 3 Indiana Wesleyan 8, Bethel 3 Huntington 11, Taylor 9 Huntington 9, Taylor 7 (8 inn.)
Sunday, April 2 Saint Xavier 5, Calumet of St. Joseph 0 Calumet of St. Joseph 2, Saint Xavier 1 IU South Bend 12, Saint Ambrose 3 Saint Ambrose 1, IU South Bend 0 IU Southeast 4, Oakland City 2 IU Southeast 11, Oakland City 3 Madonna 4, Indiana Tech 2 Madonna 15, Indiana Tech 5 (8 inn.)
Junior College Monday, March 27 McHenry County 4, Ivy Tech Northeast 0 McHenry County 8, Ivy Tech Northeast 0 Illinois Central 7, Vincennes 5 Illinois Central 8, Vincennes 2
Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade. He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19. Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U. He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies. “I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.” The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies. “We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.” With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile. “We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.” A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed. “We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.” Howard says bullpens will not begin until January. “Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.” Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks. “We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.” Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting. In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014. Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity. Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall. Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs. “Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.” Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies. Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).