By STEVE KRAH
“Working the count” is working for Hebron High School baseball.
This offensive approach has been good to the Hawks the past four seasons and has been key as Hebron (29-3) has advanced to the IHSAA Class 2A Kokomo Semistate opposite Wapahani (18-11) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10.
A batter who is patient and trying to “get ahead in the count” or get a pitch he can hit hard is often said to “work the count” or “work the pitcher.”
Seventh-year Hebron head coach John Steinhilber and his assistants — Sean Riley (first base), Chris Wiltfang (bench), Jake Wheeler (pitching) and Tim Joyce (preseason and outfield) — have been selling and the players have been buying.
“They’ve bought into our overall approach to hitting,” says Steinhilber. “We battle in counts.
“We wait to strike.”
Steinhilber and company have looked on in admiration at the number of pitches that recent Boston Red Sox batters have seen per at-bat.
Why not try to make it work on the Hawks’ level?
“(The Red Sox) see a lot of pitches. They make the pitchers work,” says Steinhilber. “We’ve done that over the last four years and it’s really hurt us.
“Guys don’t feel like they’re behind the 8-ball when they get behind two strikes. Our guys really relax. It’s something we really work on.”
Steinhilber said it is likely that more and more teams will be adopting the approach in the coming years and working the pitcher, especially in light of the new IHSAA pitch count rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).
“You want to make that guy throw extra,” says Steinhilber. “Getting into the other team’s bullpen, especially in high school, is really key.”
The count has also got pitchers and their coaches thinking about their approach.
“Now you get a kid 0-2, do you put him away to save your pitch count or work him like you normally would?,” says Steinhilber. “It’s probably a struggle with all high school teams in all states. Kids in high school think they’ve got to strike everybody out. They don’t trust their defense.
“Pitching to your defense is going to help you in the long run.”
Hebron won its first baseball sectional crown in 1976. No. 2 came in Steinhilber’s second season of 2012. That was also the year the Hawks won their first regional title.
“I played a small part in that,” says Steinhilber. “I have a great staff and we’ve had really great kids come through.”
Steinhilber played baseball and basketball at Boone Grove High School, where he graduated in 1986. He played baseball at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., then coached the sport for three while finishing his degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.
Mike Moyzis was the Pumas head coach for a team that included Rick O’Dette, who just finished his 17th season as SJC head coach with the school and program closing up shop in 2017.
Steinhilber was an assistant for a few seasons with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean, the last in 1997 when the 59ers advanced to the championship game of the single-class semistate.
Basketball coaching called Steinhilber’s name and he was a head boys coach for 19 years, retiring at the end of the 2016-17 campaign. He worked six seasons at Calumet (1998-99 to 2003-04), six at South Central of Union Mills (2004-05 to 2009-10) and seven at Hebron (2010-11 to 2016-17) with sectional championships coming in his second seasons at both Calumet and Hebron.
Steinhilber is in his third year as Hawks athletic director, a position that gets especially crazy during the spring season.
“I have an athletic secretary (Susan Spurr) that is awesome,” says Steinhilber. “If I didn’t have her I’d be lost. I’ve also good pretty good coaches and a principal (Mark Lutze) that supports everything.”
The ’17 Hawks bested North Judson, North Newton and Boone Grove by a combined 32-1 to win the Boone Grove Sectional then earned 4-3 triumphs against Eastside and Hammond Bishop Noll to reign at the Whiting Regional.
Hebron and South Central both went 6-1 to tie for the regular-season title in the Porter County Conference, which generally played on Mondays and Fridays. The Hawks then bested the Satellites in the PCC tournament championship game played the day before the sectional opener.
Other members of the conference are Boone Grove, Kouts, LaCrosse, Morgan Township, Washington Township and Westville.
To prepare for the turf at Kokomo, Steinhilber took his team to Lake Central for a practice. But the surface is not foreign to many of the Hawks.
“A lot of kids play travel and have played on turf,” says Steinhilber. “That’s a good thing for us.”
John Steinhilber, with wife Melissa, is in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Hebron High School in Porter County. The Hawks play Wapahani in the Class 2A Kokomo Semistate at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.