Sean Cunningham is now in charge of the baseball program at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., after two seasons as an assistant coach. Cunningham held a call-out meeting with the Bearcats Thursday, Sept. 1. About 20 attended with several more involved in fall sports. It is hoped that Wheeler will field varsity and junior varsity teams in 2023. “We have a lot of incoming freshmen,” says Cunningham. “It will depend on numbers in the spring.” Two points of emphasis for Cunningham as he gets Wheeler ready are off-season conditioning and pitching. “With our weight lifting and running, players got a little lackadaisical last year,” says Cunningham. “They were not pushing themselves very hard. In hotter games last year the guys dragged a little bit. “Pitching was a weak point for us last year. We have a lot of talent on the mound. I don’t think its been utilized yet.” To help with that, Cunningham has brought Paul Lipski in as pitching coach. Lipski and Cunningham served together on head coach Cory Mack’s staff at Morgan Township in 2017. The Cherokees registered several earned run averages below 3.00 and went 15-12 in 2017 and 20-6 in 2018, winning an IHSAA Class 2A sectional title in the latter season. Lipski, Mack and Wheeler graduate Alex Hutman (Class of 2021) make up Cunningham’s Bearcats staff. Cunningham coached three seasons with Jeff Rochowiak at Michigan City (2018-20). Jeff Enright (now athletic director at Wheeler) was head baseball coach with Cunningham as an assistant. “I liked his whole off-field philosophy and mindset,” says Cunningham of Enright’s approach. “We work as a team. I plan to continue that same exact kind of field in the locker room and in the dugout.” Wheeler alum Rex Stills (Class of 2021) pitched in 17 games as a Purdue Fort Wayne in 2022. Mason Leckrone (Class of 2023) is currently weighing his college options. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period began Aug. 29 and goes through Oct. 15. Wheeler (enrollment around 440) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, and Whiting). There are 12 GSSC games with some teams meeting twice and other once. The Bearcats were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Bowman Leadership Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting. Wheeler, which calls Richard Wendt Field home, has won six sectional titles — the last in 2021. Cunningham was born in Oak Lawn, Ill., and moved to Valparaiso at 5. He played baseball for four years at Valparaiso High School — two for Todd Coffin then two for Mickey Morandini. “Todd Coffin was a small-ball coach,” says Cunningham. “We learned how to play small ball the right way. “(Mickey Morandini) was a good person.” Cunningham graduated from Purdue North Central in 2014 and began teaching elementary school in Michigan City. He is now a sixth grade math teacher at Union Township Middle School. He has also been an instructor at Triple Crown Baseball and Softball Training Center in Valparaiso though he has not worked in a few months. Sean and wife Kristen Eleftheri-Cunningham had their first child — Oliver Eleftheri-Cunningham — in June.
Notre Dame — the last college baseball team from Indiana left standing in 2022 — found out today (May 30) that the Irish will be in the Statesboro Regional for the 64-team NCAA Division I tournament. The No. 2-seeded Irish (35-14) play No. 3 Texas Tech (37-20) at 2 p.m. Friday, June 3. Site host and top-seeded Georgia Southern (40-18) plays No. UNC Greensboro (34-28) at 7 p.m. Friday. Notre Dame made it to the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Regionals continue through June 6 with super regionals June 10-13 and the College World Series June 17-27. Ball State made it to the “if necessary” Mid-American Conference tournament championship game against Central Michigan and lost 11-7 to wind up the season at 40-19 overall and 32-7 as MAC regular-season champions. Central Michigan earned an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Evansville (32-24, 14-6), Indiana State (26-22-1, 10-10-1) and Valparaiso (16-32, 5-15) bowed out in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Seasons came to a close for Purdue (29-21, 9-12) and Indiana (27-32, 10-14) at the Big Ten tournament. Purdue Fort Wayne (18-36, 13-15) finished up in the Horizon League tournament. In the past few weeks, conferences have handed out postseason awards at the NCAA D-I, D-II and D-III, NAIA and junior college levels and there is a list of those below.
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).
Indiana Tech bested NAIA No. 1 Southeastern (Fla.) 11-8 Thursday, March 10, ending the Fire’s season-opening 26-game college baseball win streak. The Warriors took a 8-3 lead after four innings and held on for the victory. The contest played in Lakeland, Fla., featured seven home runs, including those by Tech’s Tristan Osika, Ashtin Moxey and Jayden Reed. Other highlights from around the state for the week of March 7-13 include Taylor right-hander/Mishawaka High School graduate Luke Shivey pitching a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings against visiting NAIA foe Huntington March 10. The Foresters’ lone hit was a one-hit single by Langston Ginder (Fort Wayne Carroll) in the seventh inning. Shively threw 116 pitches in the 6-0 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader. NAIA Oakland City beat No. 25 Point Park 8-6 in Game 3 of a series played at the Mighty Oaks’ Pinnick Field. OCU scored two runs in the seventh inning and held on to top the Pioneers. Alec Pruitt plated four runs for Oakland City. The Pride of Purdue Northwest (8-1) has roared out to quite a start in 2022. The NAIA club enjoyed 5-0 week, beating Minot State three times and Upper Iowa twice at Dowling Park in Hammond. Lake Central graduate Ray Hilbrich (.467) as well as Luke Montgomery (.346) are PNW’s top hitters. Joe Sullivan (2-0, 1.04) and Mishawaka alum Sam Shively (2-0, 3.46) are among the leading pitchers. NAIA Indiana University Kokomo (12-7) finds itself at 6-0 in the River States Conference. NCAA Division I Purdue (14-0) keeps adding to its best-ever start. With a 2-0 series against Bellarmine, the Boilermakers upped their stolen base mark to 44-of-51. Curtis Washington Jr. (9-of-9) and Mike Bolton Jr. (9-of-12) lead the club. Left-hander/McCutcheon graduate Jackson Smeltz (4-0, 2.11, 38 K’s, 7 BB, 21 1/3 IP) has been super on the mound for the nation’s last unbeaten D-I team. Evansville (6-10) swept three games at Top 20-ranked Tulane. Starters Shane Gray, Nick Smith (Boonville) and Shane Harris (North Posey) picked up victories for the Purple Aces. Notre Dame (11-1) won its first two Atlantic Coast Conference games at No. 17 North Carolina. The Irish carry a 1.71 team earned run average — among the D-I’s best. Right-hander Sam Klein (Bloomington North) picked up his third and fourth saves of the season as D-I Ball State swept a March 13 Mid-American Conference doubleheader from Eastern Michigan. Mitchell Spencer, Rex Stills (Wheeler) and Jacob Myer combined to hold Saint Louis to five hits in D-I Purdue Fort Wayne’s 4-1 win in Game 2 of a three-game series on the Billikens’ field. With two wins against Principia, NCAA Division III Earlham moved to 7-1. Christian Lancianese (.482), Leo graduate Easton Embry (.462), Cameron McCabe (.448) and Andrew Bradley (.429) are the top hitters for the Quakers. Franklin (8-3) beat Alma four times. Munster alum Logan Demkovich (.568) paces Grizzlies hitters on the season. Including March 6 games, D-III Wabash (7-2) went 5-2 in Tucson, Ariz. The Little Giants are led offensively by Highland graduate A.J. Reid (.500) and Warsaw alum Liam Patton (.424). Tavic Simmons (Carmel) is 2-0 on the bump. D-III Trine (5-6) went 4-5 in Florida. Avery Fulford (.400), Jack Kletzly (.400) and Brenden Warner (.364) guide the Thunder in hitting and New Prairie alum Noah Bretin (1-0, 1.50) in pitching. D-III Manchester scored 30 runs in a doubleheader sweep at Berea. Griffin Garwood (Mt. Vernon of Fortville) and Aidan Stevens (Rensselaer Central) drove in five runs each and and Zach White (Logansport) scored six for the Spartans (2-7).
Sunday, March 13 Ball State 2, Eastern Michigan vs. Ball State 1 Ball State 6, Eastern Michigan 4 Butler 8, Western Illinois 5 Butler 9, Western Illinois 5 Evansville 15, Tulane 1 Troy 6, Indiana 4 Troy 7, Indiana 4 Wright State 11, Indiana State 10 Notre Dame 11, North Carolina State 4 Purdue 7, Bellarmine 4 Purdue Fort Wayne 4, Saint Louis 1 Saint Louis 5, Purdue Fort Wayne 2 Southeast Missouri 10, Valparaiso 8
NCAA D-II Tuesday, March 8 Purdue Northwest 15, Minot State 13 Southern Indiana 6, West Florida 1 West Florida 1, Southern Indiana 0
Wednesday, March 9 Purdue Northwest 3, Minot State 2 Purdue Northwest 3, Minot State 1
Sunday, March 13 Lake Erie vs. Indianapolis Lake Erie vs. Indianapolis Upper Iowa vs. Purdue Northwest Upper Iowa vs. Purdue Northwest Davenport 12, Southern Indiana 4
Thursday, March 10 Wilmington 11, Franklin 4 Trine 7, Fontbonne 5 Wabash 3, Bemidji State 2
Friday, March 11 Westfield State 10, Anderson 5 Anderson 12, Westfield State 0 Franklin 6, Alma 2 Franklin 15, Alma 7 Manchester 16, Berea 5 Manchester vs. Berea Trine 3, Mt. St. Joseph 2 Mt. St. Joseph 15, Trine 1 Wabash 12, Bethany Lutheran 4 Buena Vista 11, Wabash 5
Sunday, March 13 Amherst 13, Anderson 0 Farmingdale State 10, Anderson 0 DePauw vs. Hanover DePauw vs. Hanover Franklin 11, Alma 9 Franklin 12, Alma 2
NAIA Monday, March 7 Grand View 12, Calumet of St. Joseph 5 Siena Heights 9, Calumet of St. Joseph 7 Southeastern 13, Indiana Tech 7 IU Kokomo 6, Georgetown (Ky.) 5
Tuesday, March 8 St. Thomas (Fla). 17, Indiana Tech 2 St. Thomas (Fla.) 7, Indiana Tech 1 Madonna 5, IU Kokomo 4 Northwestern (Iowa) 16, IU South Bend 3 Lindsey Wilson 10, Oakland City 7 Taylor 9, Defiance 2
Wednesday, March 9 Thomas (Ga.) 8, IU South Bend 7 (10 inn.)
Thursday, March 10 Bethel 11, Indiana Wesleyan 0 Bethel 7, Indiana Wesleyan 3 Concordia (Neb.) 10, Calumet of St. Joseph 5 Calumet of St. Joseph 5, Siena Heights 2 Spring Arbor 6, Grace 4 Spring Arbor 4, Grace 2 Saint Francis 12, Goshen 6 Saint Francis 8, Goshen 0 Taylor 6, Huntington 0 Huntington 8, Taylor 7 Indiana Tech 9, Northwestern (Iowa) 2 Indiana Tech 11, Southeastern 8 IU Kokomo 12, Rio Grande 1 IU Southeast 3, Brescia 2 IU Southeast 12, Brescia 3 Mt Vernon Nazarene 6, Marian 2 Mt Vernon Nazarene 7, Marian 1 Point Park 6, Oakland City 4 Point Park 1, Oakland City 0
Friday, March 11 Lawrence Tech 11, Calumet of St. Joseph 5 Warner 14, Calumet of St. Joseph 1 IU Kokomo 12, Rio Grande 8 IU Kokomo 7, Rio Grande 1 IU Southeast 15, Brescia 2 Oakland City 8, Point Park 6
Saturday, March 12 Lawrence Tech 8, Calumet of St. Joseph 2 Indiana Tech 8, Thomas (Ga.) 4
Sunday, March 13 Indiana Tech 5, Thomas (Ga.) 2
Junior College Tuesday, March 8 Ivy Tech Northeast 9, Anderson JV 8 Marian’s Ancilla 4, Hibbing 3
Wednesday, March 9 Hagerstown 10, Marian’s Ancilla 0 Vincennes 4, Volunteer State 1
Thursday, March 10 Kellogg 7, Ivy Tech Northeast 5
The same week the IHSAA crowns four state champions in Indianapolis, the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association will conduct its North/South All-Star Series in Evansville. State Finals are Monday and Tuesday, June 21-22 at Victory Field with the games to be set after semistates. The IHSBCA will hold its all-star game festivities Friday through Sunday, June 25-27 at the University of Evansville and historic Bosse Field. Practice is at U of E’s German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium (North workout at 3:15 p.m. Central Time, South workout at 5 Central) followed by the all-star banquet at Crescent Center at Milestones at 7 Central. A noon doubleheader is slated for Saturday at Braun Stadium with a wood-bat single game on Sunday at Bosse Field at 11 a.m. Central. Holiday Inn Express East, 220 Kirkwood Drive, is the team hotel. The North leads 68-63 in the all-time series. Indiana all-stars are seniors nominated by IHSBCA members and selected by a committee. In addition, the IHSBCA Futures Game (non-seniors) is to be staged in Evansville Wednesday, June 28.