Adam Bednarek is taking lessons he learned in high school, college and on the travel ball circuit and applying them in his first season as head baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Morton High School. Bednarek was hired to head the Governors program at the end of the summer of 2022 and began his first year of teaching (U.S. History) and Morton in the fall. Morton (enrollment around 1,675) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Central). The Governors are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hobart, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. Morton has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2015. Born in Illinois and raised in Dyer, Ind., Bednarek went to Andrean High School in nearby Merrillville, and played for Indiana High School Baseball Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur, who has eight state titles and more than 1,000 victories to his credit. Bednarek was in the program from 2014 to 2017. He was rostered as a sophomore but did not dress for the 2015 IHSAA Class 3A State Finals. He was a second baseman on the varsity in 2016 and moved to third base in 2017 after tearing a meniscus. What does Bednarek, who wore No. 16 in Red and Gold, remember most about time spent with the veteran 59ers skipper? “Coach Pishkur is unbelievable at teaching all sorts of baserunning things — especially stealing third base,” says Bednarek. “I became a much better baserunner during my time at Andrean.” Three of Bednarek’s four Morton assistants — Danny Murray, Eric Mularski and Sawyer Allen — played with him in high school. Only longtime Governors assistant and Babe Ruth League coach Vern Jefferson did not. Bednarek and company led Morton players who were able to attend fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions with an emphasis on fundamentals and defensive situations. A drill he learned from Pishkur — The Runs Game — was part of the twice-a-week workouts. It’s essentially living batting practice on the clock. The offensive team might get 10 minutes to score as many runs in that time. The catch is there are four live balls and the hitting team has to track down the foul balls and get them back into the game before the next pitch can be thrown. “We create fun chaos,” says Bednarek. “It’s a really fast pace and there’s a lot of conditioning.” Winter has been dedicated mostly arm conditioning and strength training with players in the weight room about three times a week. Bednarek has had 26 players sign up for baseball and he might gain a few once the varsity boys basketball season ends. The plan calls for Morton to field varsity and junior varsity teams in the spring, playing home games on Georgas Field (named for former coach Jack Georgas). After high school, Bednarek spent one fall with the baseball team at Quincy (Ill.) University then transferred to Indiana University-Bloomington and earned a degree in Secondary Education focused on Social Studies. That’s when he began coaching in the summer — two with Bobby Morris and 5 Star National Great Lakes and one with the Indiana Playmakers.
Brenden Bube got to represent Lanesville (Ind.) Junior-Senior High School at the IHSAA State Finals his junior and senior years. The Swingin’ Eagles were Class 1A state runners-up in 2016 and 1A state champions in 2017 with Zach Payne as head coach. Bube was the starting pitcher, 2-hole hitter and also played shortstop in 2016. Many of the players on the current Lanesville team were in the fifth and sixth grade at the time. Now they have Bube as their head coach. “I’ve got a real cool group,” says Bube. “They got to see our success in high school which is really cool.” He began college at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., and graduated from Indiana University Southeast in New Albany as an Occupational Safety major and right-handed pitcher for the Grenadiers baseball team last summer. Bube (pronounced Boo-Bee) was hired last fall to lead the program at his prep alma mater. The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was devoted to reps, especially on defense, and its been more of the same this winter with those who can make it. “Defense is going to win ball games for us,” says Bube. “We’re going to make the routine plays look easy. “That’s where they struggled last year. They lost a lot of close games just from making errors.” Lanesville (enrollment around 260) is a member of the Southern Athletic Conference (with Borden, Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central of Elizabeth). The Eagles are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping in 2023 with Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Rock Creek Academy, South Central (Elizabeth) and West Washington. Lanesville has won five sectional crowns — the last in 2019. As a small school, multi-sport athletes are the rule rather than the exception. “You don’t get your (whole) baseball team until the spring,” says Bube, who welcomes back a core with many sophomores. Third baseman/first baseman Matt Compton (Class of 2023) has been drawing college baseball interest. Corner infielder/pitcher Brandon Gibson Class of 2022) is at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky. Besides Bube, right-hander Cameron Harvey (Class of 2017) began at Indiana Wesleyan University and finished at IU Southeast. Bube’s Lanesville coaching staff includes Chris Guffey and Stephen Shaffer. Guffey played at Colorado State University. Shaffer (Class of 2015) played at Oakland City University. Ed Jaegers Memorial Field is on the east side of the Lanesville campus. Bube says the facility is getting new wind screens and the program is receiving some new equipment. “It’s one of the nicest fields in our area,” says Bube. “For a small 1A field our field is really, really nice.” Lanesville Youth League fields (T-ball through eighth grade) are located two miles from the school and feeds the high school program. Bube teaches Physical Education at Fairmont Elementary School — part of New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation. Brenden and fiancee Brooklyn Gibbs, of Mount Vernon, Ind., have planned a September 2023 wedding. Born in Louisville, Brenden grew up in Corydon, Ind., and was there until he started high school. The youngest of Joe and Debbie Bube’s three children, Brenden has an older sister named Joshlyn Thatcher (Corydon Central High School Class of 2007) and older brother named Tyler Bube (Corydon Central Class of 2009).
Has it really been a generation since Indiana widely adopted high school class sports? Of course there were classes in football going back to the 1970s, but check the records and you will find that 1996-97 (when Jasper outlasted Carmel 10-8 for the IHSAA baseball championship) was the last year that other sports were in the all-comers category at state tournament time. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away the 2020 spring season, that makes 2023 the 25th year of class baseball in the Hoosier State. In the multi-class era, 56 different schools have won state baseball championships. Of that number, only Jasper, LaPorte and Penn earned titles prior to 1997-98. There are 22 schools with multiple state runner-up finishes. That accounts for 60 red ribbons — all but 12 coming from 1997-98 forward. Noting that some schools came about in recent years because of consolidation, unification or other reasons, those that won their first sectional championship during the multi-class era include 4A’s Elkhart (2021), Evansville Harrison (1999), Fishers (2017), Fort Wayne South Side (2012) and Michigan City (2002), 3A’s Angola (1999), Charlestown (1999) and Hamilton Heights (2006), 2A’s Austin (2002), Central Noble (2009), Clinton Central (2005), Covenant Christian of Indianapolis (2008), Delphi (2008), Fairfield (1998), Hanover Central (2011), Heritage Christian (2005), Illiana Christian (2022), Lewis Cass (2000), North Decatur (2011), Parke Heritage (2021), Sheridan (2004), South Knox (2004), Southwestern of Hanover (1999), Southwood (1999), Taylor (1998), Triton Central (2003), Whitko (2017) and Woodlan (2005) and 1A’s Argos (1998), Bethesda Christian (2008), Caston (2012), Christian Academy of Indiana (2004), Cowan (2004), Daleville (1999), Edinburgh (2009), Elkhart Christian (2013), Eminence (2005), Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian (2001), Fort Wayne Canterbury (2009), Greenwood Christian (2014), Hauser (2004), Henryville (1999), Indianapolis Lutheran (2017), Kouts (1998), Marquette Catholic (2002), Milan (1999), Monroe Central (2001), Morgan Township (2004), Morristown (1998), New Washington (1998), Northeast Dubois (1998), North Miami (2019), Oldenburg Academy (2003), Park Tudor (1998), Pioneer (2016), Randolph Southern (2010), Rising Sun (2002), Seton Catholic (2011), South Central of Elizabeth (2005), Southwestern of Shelbyville (1999), Tecumseh (2000), Traders Point Christian (2021), Trinity Lutheran (2009), Triton (2000), Washington Township (1999), Union City (2012), University (2012), Waldron (2001), West Washington (2021), White River Valley (2017) and Whiting (2008). A quarter century in, there are still plenty of opinions in the Indiana high school baseball community about the system. These questions were posed to several coaches around Indiana:
Is class baseball a positive or a negative?
Who benefits the most from class baseball?
If you could change anything about class baseball what would that be?
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has allowed schools of all sizes to be recognized and have some success at the state level while increasing fan interest in our sport. The players and the communities truly benefit the most from class baseball, in my opinion. “The IHSAA does a great job of administering the state tournament and ending each year at Victory Field allows our sport to be showcased on a big stage! However, the tournament format itself needs to be addressed, especially at the sectional level, and we can’t continue in a ‘one size fits all’ cookie-cutter format. Our sport is different than others and our tournament format needs to reflect that. Seeding, success factor, and travel also need to be looked at in light of the fact(s) that class sports are here to stay and there are geographical constraints/factors based on the location of the school(s). “Baseball in general is changing for the better in Indiana … the IHSBCA and the IHSAA need to continue to work together on formats/philosophies/participation guidelines that foster growth in our sport and develop a mutual relationship where everyone’s input is valued. We, the IHSBCA, have several ideas to share about the state tournament format/setup and how we can better grow our sport, in general. We are all stronger when we are working together and my goal as the Executive Director is to help facilitate positive changes that will grow our sport and unify our coaches at the same time.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “I assume that smaller schools are more likely to benefit so they play teams that are more competitive. “I would support adding a fifth ‘super class’ of the largest schools and then balance the rest of the four classes.”
“Class baseball is definitely a positive thing. It levels the playing field for teams when it comes to player depth and facilities. “For example, a school with an enrollment of 2,200 has a lot more players to work with and pull from than a school with an enrollment of 300. Both teams can be good and have good players, but the bigger school is very likely going to have more depth. The smaller school is likely to have one really good pitcher where the bigger school is likely to have two, or even three really good pitchers. As a result, the bigger school would have a big advantage in the sectional and regional. “The other way it levels the playing field is when it comes to facilities. Bigger schools tend to have nicer facilities to train and practice in during the off-season where some schools, usually the smaller ones, don’t have anything close to the facilities of larger schools. Many schools either can’t get access to the facilities they have during the off-season because other in-season teams are using them for practice or games, or they just don’t have the facilities or space period. “It can put teams at a big competitive disadvantage when they can’t train or practice the way they want to and need to during the off-season, and I think class baseball helps in this regard because schools that have similar enrollments tend to have similar facilities. “Everyone benefits from class baseball. The smaller schools obviously because of what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question, but also the larger schools. When you’re competing for anything, let alone a state championship, you want it to really mean something and be a challenge. It’s what competing is all about. It’s not going to mean as much when a school with an enrollment of 2,200 plus kids goes up against a school with an enrollment of 300 plus kids and beats them in a sectional or regional. They should be able to do that again referring back to what I mentioned in my previous answer to the first question. “Not only would they win but they wouldn’t have to throw their No. 1 pitcher to do so and would have them available for the next game, where the smaller school would likely need to throw their best pitcher in that situation. And if they did win, do they have a pitcher that could compete and win against another team with a large enrollment…not likely. “There are two things I would change about class baseball, and one of them is being talked about right now. First, I would seed the postseason. It’s frustrating when you have teams that have done really well during the regular season and they meet in the first or second round of the sectional, and there are teams that didn’t fair as well in the regular season getting a bye in the first round and/or playing another team that didn’t do as well in the early rounds. “It’s something I feel wouldn’t be too difficult to do or set up and it would make the postseason better and provide even more meaning to the regular season. I like that everyone makes the postseason because you can have something happen with injuries and get a player back, or a team hasn’t quite figured things out yet but later in the year they do and are still in it. “But, there needs to be something in place for teams that do better in the regular season. I think seeding the sectional would be really good for Indiana high school baseball. “The other thing I would change is going from four classes to five classes. Again, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned previously. Many times there’s such a large gap between the teams in 4A. I think going to five classes would help this and it’s something the IHSBCA and IHSAA are talking about and looking into. “The success factor has worked well and is set up well. How they have it set up is good and I think it’s accomplishing what they wanted it to.”
“There’s no doubt that class sports have provided more opportunities for athletes, coaches, schools, and communities by creating a level of fairness with classified state tournaments. I understand the traditional approach of one class and experienced it as a player as we advanced to the semistate finals as a small school (at Western) in ’93 and ’94. But as a coach, the class system allows for accomplished small school teams to aspire to be state champions instead of hoping to win a sectional in a one class system. “All stakeholders of a school’s baseball program (benefit most from class baseball). Having ranked teams and winning championships builds a greater sense of tradition within communities and raises interest amongst school children, faculty, and administration. Players and coaches benefit from the sense of accomplishment by developing a highly competitive team within a post-season setting. “I would make the tradition factor a four-year stay in an elevated class — not just two years. Those who are state champion caliber teams seem to continue to dominate the current landscape. Also, if a team moves up in class and wins a sectional, regional, etc., a system needs to be created to keep them in that class because they are showing the ability to compete. “We need to restructure our tournament. Six-team sectionals and format need to be uniformed. Only the sectional final should be played on Memorial Day. We’d have two-team regionals, four-team semistates and seed the tournament. “We are the only sport that, based on pitching restrictions (pitch counts and days rest) and may not have our best lineup on the field in a championship setting. Too many sectional championships are decided by Team 1’s ace dominating vs Team 2’s bullpen because of weather, graduation or the draw. Basketball will always have their point guard.”
“There have been a lot of positives (with class baseball). There have been some very good smaller schools that have gotten the chance to experience state tourney runs that might not have happened in areas where there were perennial large school programs had too much depth for the smaller schools. I think that has been a good thing for Indiana high school baseball. “Small schools with open enrollments and the ability to reach out from beyond what would be considered a normal attendance area have done extremely well (in class baseball). This, however, is not entirely the fault of class sports. Open enrollment and increased club and travel athletic teams have opened up a whole different experience for high school athletes today. “High school athletes are far more likely to travel further, meet and become friends with new teammates outside of their own school in the off-season and subsequently more likely to travel further away to attend a school of their choice. In a way I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, that choice often comes with a greater financial obligation and not all athletes and their families can afford to do so. Smaller schools have benefited in some areas directly. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the class sports, it’s the trend and we aren’t going to a one-class tourney.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. At times, schools being up a class or down a class will dictate how successful they can be. “The smaller schools probably benefit most (from class baseball). Winning a sectional would be a huge feat for a small school (during the one-class era). I know it was for us (at Northwestern) when we played in the sectional with Kokomo). “There’s talk of the IHSAA going to a five-class system. I’d probably be in favor of that. If you’re going to do class might as well break it up a little more. “How are sectionals are being distributed and seeding of the tournament would take much more priority over how many classes there are. “Let’s set up a season where the regular season is more meaningful and the better teams are meeting at the end (with semistate- and state-caliber games at those stages rather than at the sectional level). “I like the way Ohio (has seeded). The way I understand it, teams have been ranked off their MaxPreps ranking. Head coaches have a meeting. If you’re ranked No. 1 you pick your sectional. If you’re No. 2 you pick your sectional and you’re probably not going to put themselves in the same sectional as the No. 1 team.”
“(On the positive side,) class baseball provides more kids, coaches, and communities an opportunity to be a state champion. (On the negative side,) prior to class baseball we were used to minimal travel. We’ve also lost the local rivalries because of class baseball. “Good smaller programs who were fundamentally sound yet they usually didn’t have the pitching to advance deep into the tournament (benefit most from class baseball). “I would place all private schools into Class 4A or 2A. The success factor has helped every two years, but you still have those schools who dominate every two years they move down. “I’ve coached at the 4A and 3A level and even though I am at a 3A school, I would still rather compete against local rivalry teams rather than class baseball. However, we will never return to a one class system and I understand why!”
“Class baseball is a positive and helps balance the playing field. Since I’ve been coaching, I believe all but just a few schools that have made the State Finals in 4A are in the top 32 in enrollment in the state. “Baseball is a game where you are not always putting your best 9 or best team on the field depending on pitching rotation and availability of arms. “The larger enrollment typically means there are more available players trying out, which creates a greater opportunity to development quality depth in your pitching staff. That is one advantage that bigger schools have. So, the idea of class baseball helps to control some of the variables on both sides of the field. It is not perfect, but it is a way to try and help control some of the unique variables that are different in baseball than other sports. “I believe the top half of each class benefits the most from class baseball, especially at the 3A and 4A levels because the range of enrollment is so much bigger from the smallest school to biggest school in those classes. The range in enrollment in 1A and 2A is much closer from top to bottom. “I don’t really want to go down this path, but the private schools also benefit from class baseball, especially in 1A, 2A, and often 3A. Private schools are not limited to school district lines and are able to draw from a wider range of students compared to the smaller enrollment schools in 1A and 2A. “Not really answering the question, but if I could change anything about the IHSAA tournament, I would make the regular season matter and seed the tournament (or at least seed the teams that feed into the regionals). “You might not be in the same sectional each year if you are seeded from the regional level. I would also create double-elimination rounds at the different levels (sectional, regional, etc.). Similar to the thought above that you are not always putting your best team on the field depending on pitcher availability, a double-elimination tournament would help to insure the best team advances and not just the team with the best pitcher and the best blind draw. “Classes need to be set by a specific enrollment range and not try to keep every class the same size. I would add a fifth or even a sixth class and set the range for the enrollment so that each school in the class is close to the same enrollment size. If that means that one class only has 32 teams, another class has 48, another class has 64, and another class has 96, then that is what should be done and would help make the tournament as fair as possible.”
“Overall (class baseball) is a positive. It has given a lot of smaller schools a chance to be successful and show some of these coaches at smaller schools can really coach. “Smaller schools definitely benefit the most (from class baseball). Some of the teams that have won state championships would never make it out of their sectionals if we were one class. Nothing against them but when schools have 2,000 students to pick from they are going to have a lot more athletes and in the sports that require more players like baseball and football that makes a big difference. “(I favor putting) private schools in their own class. I think they have such a huge advantage. Not because they recruit or anything like that, but they tend to get the players that are more apt and able to do the extra things such as lessons, travel ball, etc. “Overall (class) been good for sports in Indiana. I know Silver Creek has won three state championships in boys and girls basketball in the past four years and made we have made some long runs in baseball. Not sure we would have been able to do that in one class. If you ask any of those kids that were on the state championship team and I am sure they could care less whether it was one class or four.”
“I have no issues with class baseball. I like competing against other schools my size because they have the same issues (positive and negative) that I have. “(Class baseball) definitely helps the smaller schools being able to compete against other schools their own size. “Baseball is a sport where a dominant pitcher can have a great bearing on the game. I remember playing Bremen in the semistate in ’94. (John Glenn head coach) John Naldony has had some very good teams that can compete against larger schools. “As far as changes, a double-elimination sectional would be interesting. I am not sure if a five-class baseball system could accommodate that.”
“Wapahani is in favor of class sports. I believe it makes sports a more even playing field. We won the state in 2014 in 2A, that would not have happened if there was one class. “Our girls volleyball just won state, which is a big deal for small communities, they lost to Yorktown twice and HSE (Class 4A finalists) all were sweeps and not really close. “Even though our team in 2014 and our girls last week were very good, competing against the bigger schools in the tournament would be very difficult. That being said, our State Championships are still a very big deal for our community, school, and students. “Therefore, class sports are a positive. As little league participation in small communities keep losing kids to travel ball and other activities small school numbers are seeing less kids playing baseball and softball unless they have a successful program which is a minority. “Small schools at least feel like they have a chance to win in the tournament and maybe even a state championship when they are playing schools close to their same size. Very few 1A or 2A teams can compete in the tournament with the bigger schools, once they realize that kids quit playing or go to another sport where they might have a chance to win. “The current format is fine for the tournament. Adding additional classes or a class would benefit big schools only in my opinion. Four classes has been a success. Can you tweak things? Maybe. But why change if it is not broken?”
“I like the one-class system but also know that class sports are not going anywhere so we can take the positives from it and live with it. “It is probably the small class schools and communities that benefit the most as they typically have a greater opportunity to advance when playing similar size schools. “Class sports are here to stay so one change I’d like to see for baseball would be the tournament run in some way that has a series feel to it as baseball is not a sport that is suited for a ‘one and done’ tournament.”
“I’m fine with class sports but concerned about the impact of some private and parochial schools that seem to put great emphasis on athletic success which can make it difficult for public schools to compete on an annual basis. “Class sports are here to stay but this situation and the number of transfers at public schools are the next challenges for the IHSAA.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It has created more excitement for more schools and their fans. “Probably the smaller schools feel as if they have a better chance to experience sectional and regional championships than when it was one class. “The only drawback (in class baseb all) I could see is you may have farther travel but in your sectional pairings than when it was one class. When I played in the single class, your sectional would be more local. It would have teams of various sizes, but we seemed have greater rivalries because many times you played against those teams in the regular season or against those players in your summer leagues. “As a coach today, I want to play the best schools we can (no matter the size). I want to prepare ourselves for our conference and sectional. When I was a player, we wanted to be able to compete with Logansport, Kokomo, Marion and LaPorte. Today, we want to compete with Andrean, Jasper, Brebeuf and Southridge.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. I witnessed first-hand what the state tournament does in small communities. The student-athletes have a more balanced playing field. “The benefits go to the teams that advance the furthest in the tourney. Without class baseball a 1A could defeat a 3A or 4A school in the tournament on a given day. However, in most cases those smaller schools don’t have the depth, especially with pitchers. “We are at the point that we need to look at the number of classes. I would be in favor of adding a fifth class. The current disparity in school sizes is extremely large in the upper class. With the growth and addition of smaller, private schools, other mid-size schools are being bumped up. “The biggest problem facing our tournament currently is the number of schools in the sectionals. Host schools have roughly a week to host a sectional tournament. “Depending on your sectional, you could have anywhere from 5-8 teams in that sectional. Huge difference between five and eight. In a five-team sectional the winning team would have to win two or at most three games, and could possibly do that with two pitchers. In an eight-team sectional, the winning team would have to win three games and would possibly need three if not four pitchers in that 5-7 day window for the games.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. It levels the playing field for all schools, especially the ones that are not in that top quarter or so. “The smaller schools and even the medium-sized schools benefit the most. “The thing that football did with the Top 32 (being in the largest or super class), I’d like to see that in the other sports. There are different things you could do with the other four (in a five-class system). You could divide it up evenly. There’s been discussion of capping 1A at 128. There’s a big discrepancy right now between the bottom of 4A and the top of 4A. “(The Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association) has talked about running data and see how people would fall. There would not be (an) equal (amount of) schools in every class. We’re still in the process of gathering information. The IHSAA was at our last two athletic directors conferences and present for those discussions.”
“Class baseball will have a positive effect on high school baseball. I think that it levels the playing field for the state tournament. Also, having class baseball will allow more schools the opportunity to earn a state title just like with football’s six classes. “I believe that the smaller schools will benefit.” “It would be fun to see all state title teams play in a small tournament to see who is the best of all of the classes.” “Even with the change to class baseball, there are very good teams at each class level. It will still not be an easy road to get the opportunity to play at Victory Field.”
“Had class sports been in place (when I was at Clinton Prairie) I may have never left. One of the things class sports does is that you can achieve everything positive you want to achieve from a goals standpoint. “Class sports kind of levels the playing field during the state tournament. I had some terrific teams back at Prairie. In five years, we won two sectionals. “A disadvantage for class sports is that when you get to a bigger school like Noblesville there’s no ceiling on the enrollment. “Believe it or not once we went to class sports Noblesville had the smallest enrollment in our sectional at 1,250 (Clinton Prairie was around 300). “If I were at Clinton Prairie I’d welcome it as a smaller school. I might have one really good pitcher that could help me compete against anybody, but in most years would have a drop-off in pitching depth. “At Noblesville — a larger school — I have the chance to have more depth. In baseball it always comes down to pitching. You can be good in a lot of areas of the game. If you have a question on the mound you’re going to struggle.”
There’s positives and negatives for everything, but it’s good for baseball to have class. “If we expand to another class it’s going to be even better. It makes everyone feel like they have a chance. If you’ve got the right group of guys you can win. “At the State Finals you see a difference between the 1A game and 4A game. The lineups are deeper at the bigger level. The 4A game is little more of a college game than a high school game. “The smaller schools probably benefit more (in class baseball) than the bigger schools). “In baseball, it’s how the pitching lines up. “I like how Iowa does it. They don’t start baseball until the end of April and their tournament’s in July. I don’t know if that will ever happen here.”
“Class baseball is a positive (but classification should be addressed) … The number of schools in each class doesn’t need to be the same. “Breakdown of each class needs to be more than an arbitrary enrollment number. There needs to be thought into why the lines of demarcation are made (spread, standard deviations, range). Athletic department size (percentage of the student body participating in each sport should be used for classes) could be used to determine classes. “Many large schools have very small baseball programs. Some small schools have very large baseball programs in terms of numbers. The class system should be used to place a school into its appropriate level of competition, not just for the number of students that attend a school. There are many other variables to consider.”
“I don’t know if (class baseball) is a positive or a negative per say. I played when there wasn’t any classes and I think the class system has taken away for the local rivalries. Now depending on your class and the location of your sectional, you may have to travel up to an hour to play in sectionals, although more teams have the opportunity to win a state championship, a win over a neighborhood rival might mean more, bragging rights. “There are eight teams every year who have the opportunity to play in a state championship game so that’s a benefit (to class baseball). More players, coaches, and schools who have a chance to experience a state championship game. “I’m not sure that I agree with the success factor movement (for all schools), aside from private schools you may be punishing kids who aren’t even in high school because current classes are winning. In small towns you may have a group of kids who all hit at once and then the next year they have nothing, those young men, in the current format are being punished for the success of prior classes. “For me it comes down to the local excitement, the rivalries, the competition between kids who know each other, who’ve grown up playing each other since little league. That’s what’s I believe is missing with the class system. Coming from a coach at a small school I know that if there wasn’t a class system the likelihood of us winning a sectional would go down dramatically, but just think if we would ever knock off one of the local big boys, it would be remembered forever.”
“Overall you can’t make a real argument that (class baseball) is a negative. You’re putting more kids and more schools in successful situations. I get that part. “We were fortunate enough to win eight sectionals (at Northeast Dubois) which wouldn’t have happened in single-class. “That being said, I’m not sure its been a positive for small-school athletes as far as recognition goes (for all-star consideration or scholarships). “The smaller schools were the target when this all started 25 years ago.” “There are private schools that have it better than other private schools (some have thrived and others have had a hard time fielding a team).”
“Class baseball is a positive for the most part. The obvious plus is that there are more ‘winners.’ The big negative in my opinion is that schools lose local rivalries. Pre-class era, we had great rivalries with all the local schools because you were going to potentially play one of them at the sectional or regional level. Those teams and games are now just another game on the schedule unfortunately, especially in my neck of the woods. “Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North are on a ‘big school island.’ We have to travel at least 50 miles to play another 4A baseball team. It was much easier to have a rivalry with say a West Vigo, South Vermillion, Sullivan, etc. before class baseball because we would most likely see them in the state tournament. It is difficult to have a rivalry with a school that is located in or around the Indianapolis area. “The IHSAA can expand to five classes for baseball — that’s fine. But, in my opinion, the private schools need to have their own class/classes.”
“I think class baseball has been positive even though I was a little skeptical when it first started. “Class baseball probably benefits the smaller schools the most because it gives them a realistic chance in the tournament. “The biggest thing that I think that could help class baseball would be looking at creating a separate parochial school class.”
“Having been a high school football coach for 40 years and a head high school baseball coach for 45 years, I have seen the ‘evolution’ of class sports here. My connection to friends and relatives in neighboring Ohio and Michigan has also allowed me to ‘watch’ the evolution of class sports there. In my early years (1981), I was part of Leland Etzler’s Woodlan football staff that went to the Class A state championship game vs. Hamilton Southeastern. There were three classes of football at that time compared with the six we have now. The game was played outdoors in a blizzard on November 20, 1981 (the night before my wife and I were married). It was an awesome experience for everyone connected to the small town communities of Woodburn and Harlan, Indiana. That puts my vote on the positive side of class sports in general and class baseball in particular. “In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Class 2A baseball championship game at Victory Field with my Heritage Patriots. We came up short to a powerhouse from South Spencer, but once again it was a tremendous experience for the communities of Monroeville and Hoagland. Players, parents and fans were the biggest beneficiaries in both cases. “I have seen point systems both here and in Ohio. I have seen other limited entry systems where not everyone gets to participate. I have seen ‘seeded’ systems (currently in Ohio) where top seeds are given regional choice and early round home games. Later rounds are played at ‘neutral’ sites. There are good and bad characteristics to all of these hybrid systems — depending on where you fall in the ‘rankings.’ I feel that things continue to evolve and therefore should only get better in the future — as long as we keep all kids in mind.”
“I believe it to be positive for the student-athletes throughout the state as class baseball has provided opportunities for schools of all sizes to compete with more of a level playing field. Being at a smaller school for five years (Delphi) and now at a bigger school for the last 11 (Harrison), I have been lucky enough to see several outstanding programs and coaches at all levels. “While at Delphi, we were fortunate enough to advance to the 2010 2A state championship game. While I would like to say we’d compete well in a one-class system, the truth of the matter is, we would have struggled to compete against bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional) due to the differences in depth of our roster in comparison to bigger schools. “At Harrison, we have been lucky enough to have several arms that we could run out in an elimination game. At Delphi, that number is quite smaller, which would have really hurt us if we were to play vs. bigger schools in a two- or three-game sectional (or regional). That is a huge competitive advantage for the larger schools and something that is beyond the control of smaller schools. When class baseball started, it provided schools of all sizes the ability to compete on a level playing field in each of the four classes.
“I really see (class baseball) as a positive for the lower classes. Class A and AA have the opportunity to get a State Championship and not have to butt heads with the larger schools. In Class AAA and AAAA, there’s not as big a difference in talent.”
“Class baseball is both positive and negative in my mind. You lose some of the regional rivalries although you could still play local/smaller and larger teams on your regular season schedule. We certainly have more sectional champions and more kids are able to enjoy success playing baseball so that is a huge plus. It leaves more kids with positive experiences while in high school and playing our great game. “I would have to think that the smaller schools benefit the most from class baseball with all respect to them. Our state has tremendous coaches and programs at all levels. Again the opportunity for kids at those schools to be able to compete in the state tournament and enjoy success is a great benefit. “I’m not sure there is much to change for the better — possibly a Champions Tournament but on the flip side it may be rough to win a title and then turn around and possibly get beat. Basketball got away from it, obviously. Some schools have to travel quite a bit for sectional play, but again not sure if there is a way around that. “Baseball at the 3A level on a whole rivals the baseball being played at 4A. Jasper and Andrean’s success when they bumped up is a testament.”
“As in other sports, classification was created to level the playing field keeping schools with similar enrollment sizes within the same bracket and to also create more winners per sport. Classification has added hope to teams who may otherwise not have it if they are put into a sectional with bigger schools. To be perfectly honest most of the time the bigger schools just have access to more choices, such as players, facilities and money. “The smaller schools benefit the most from classification. It has allowed talent to grow and flourish, as having an opportunity to win a sectional breeds hope, which makes it easier to get kids out to play. “I would create a separate class for private schools, the advantage that they have can not be matched by the public school. I will say open enrollment has helped, but the private schools have distanced themselves a lot especially in baseball. “I like where we are at with baseball in the state of Indiana. The training facilities and opportunities that our kids have after high school has grown since I have been in the game the last 20 years.”
“I am somewhat of a traditionalist, so a single class had a little soft spot in my heart. That said, there are some benefits to a class system. The class system allows for: 1. More state winners, 2. A chance for smaller schools to compete at a high level, 3. It helps promote the game of baseball in the state. “I would say the smaller schools and the schools that fall just under the class limits (benefit the most from class baseball). What I mean by that is if the top 101 enrollments go to 4A, school number 102 has an advantage because they are playing in 3A. The private schools also benefit from the class system. “If we are to stay in the class system (which we will), I would say that for baseball there needs to be five classes instead of four. “Another change I would enact would be to not separate by an equal number. If there are 400 schools, it doesn’t need to be 100 in each class of four. “A final change would be the success factor rule. The requirements need to be adjusted, mainly the length at which they must stay up a class should be longer. “One thing that class baseball hurt (along with class basketball) was the community sectionals. I graduated in ’93 when it was still one class and I remember that all the sectionals in every sport were heavily-attended. The attendance has gone down in terms of sectionals.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing, especially for schools with lower enrollment. It helps create a somewhat even playing field for tournament play. Class sports have allowed for multiple smaller enrollment schools to have teams thrive and have success that may not happen if class sports didn’t exist. “Class baseball has allowed our kids to compete against schools of like enrollment. It has allowed our school to enjoy tournament success. It has allowed our school and community to host sectional and regional tournaments, whereas without class sports, we may have not had these opportunities. “I understand the log jam in class sports that occurs at the 4A level, especially in larger city schools. Oftentimes top teams match up early in a tournament, which I am sure is frustrating for those programs. “Overall, class baseball has been a positive thing, especially from the Caston baseball programs perspective. We feel as though it provides parity for our kids, and it gives them a chance to be successful in tournament play. Like in any system, there are pros and cons, but our feel is this has more pros than cons for our student athletes.”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. Teams get a chance to play vs comparable sized teams, better chance for success in state tourney. “The lower classes (benefit most from class baseball) as they all have a legitimate chance for tourney success. “My thoughts about change, which I presented to LaPorte AD, Ed Gilliland, over five years ago is this: All classes play their sectionals. Winners would then meet up in a demographic regional competing with those winners meeting in a four-team semi and finally in a final four State Championship tournament. I actually broke it down statewide with who goes where potentially each stage. This give each class a chance for a sectional title and a tourney overall state champion. I also put this idea for basketball as well. “IHSBCA has done a tremendous job in supporting high school baseball. Baseball and basketball are sports where small schools can compete vs. larger schools. My format would appease all schools with a chance for a sectional trophy, but let’s see one overall state champion.”
“(Class baseball) is a positive. “Smaller public schools definitely benefit the most from class ball. “I don’t feel there is anything wrong with our classification system. There will always be some argument that private schools should perhaps have their own division.”
“I am from the group that favors the one-class system when it comes to the tournament. I think in baseball you can still be competitive with bigger schools if you are a smaller school. “If you have four or five classes then you really don’t have a ‘state champion.’ You have four or five ‘state champions.’ “If you want a true state champion then, let the class winners compete against each other a week later and really come up with a ‘state champion.’ Until then, you just have ‘class champions.’” “If you are going to have class state champions, why are big schools and little schools playing during the regular season?”
“Class baseball is a positive thing. I would say I grew up as a traditionalist and loved the single-class basketball era; however, I’ve grown to appreciate the advantages/disadvantages that come with the size of schools. “Classifying baseball is something that benefits all programs, schools and communities. At the end of the season, eight communities get to compete for the state title at an amazing stadium. Maybe that will soon expand to 10! “I am excited to see the potential of a fifth class built into the state tournament. This would help create more balance among the classes once it is all said and done. It would be interesting to see how things would shake up if multipliers were given to various things like private/public schools, free/reduced percentages, etc. I’ve heard arguments for the success factor to be implemented differently as well. I am not sure it’s entirely fair that the success of graduated juniors and seniors determines the fate of the rising freshman and sophomores who were not directly a part of that success. “I would love to see consistent sectional/regional alignments across as many team sports as possible. I feel this would enhance the rivalry aspect of the state tournament from a sectional/regional standpoint.”
“For us, class baseball has certainly been a positive. Realistically we don’t have the manpower to compete in a tournament with the larger schools. It gives us something to shoot for, and a legitimate chance to win tournament championships. “All small schools benefit from class baseball. Even at the state tournament there is a very noticeable difference in the talent level between the class A game, and the Class AA game. Larger schools have 4-5 times more kids try out for their team. Valpo has over a hundred, we typically get 20 boys out per season.”
“(Class baseball) has been a real positive for high school baseball. Although every once in awhile you have a team you feel can compete in any class, the class system gives teams a level playing field on a more consistent basis. “The kids and community benefit most (from class baseball). At the end of the day when you are a state champion, none of those kids or community identify as a class state champ, they identify as a state champion and the memories from that success. “Baseball should be a double-elimination tournament in order to get a true team champion. A team can eliminate a really good team in a single-elimination tournament with a dominant pitcher. “In 2008 we had Tyler Watts and Kevin Kiermaier get seen by the Parkland College coach because we had the opportunity to advance in the state tournament in Class 2A. They both went to Parkland and Kevin is having a pretty good major league career.”
“In our area, the vast majority of schools are 3A and 4A. I’m not sure it makes a ton of difference one way of the other. I’m sure for many small schools, (class baseball) provides some positive benefits. “(Class baseball) is beneficial for some of the smaller schools that may not have a chance for success against bigger schools. “There should be other factors involved in the equation when classifying schools. You’re not always comparing apples to apples when you look at enrollment numbers. You can compare similar-sized schools and athletes in one district that do not necessarily have the same opportunities and resources that athletes in another district do.”
“(Class baseball is a) very positive thing. Enrollment is definitely not the only factor, but it does make a big difference. It’s not realistic to think that small schools can compete consistently with the higher enrollment schools. The depth that the larger schools have because of numbers and the in-team competition that brings gives them a major advantage. Larger schools often have more resources — including indoor facilities and more coaches that is also advantageous for them. “The benefits from class baseball can be seen throughout all classes. The idea is that schools are competing against similar schools is good for all. “I would actually like to see five classes. The descepancy between the biggest schools in 4A and the smaller schools in 4A is very large. We have schools with over 3,500 students competing against schools that have less than 1,500 students. That is a major difference that brings some big advantages for the larger schools.”
“At Rossville, we benefit from class baseball. I cannot speak for any other coaches or programs but my guess is most would say that smaller schools and/or private schools benefit from the most. With that said, sectionals are generally aligned by geographical location so my guess is a 4A Sectional in the Indianapolis area might not see significant change if we had one class. I could be wrong though. “I would love to see baseball do something like basketball did for a short time with the Tournament of Champions. Baseball — unlike basketball or football — has what I consider to be an equalizer with pitching. It would be neat to see it played out. “I am a fan of the old school single-class system as well. I don’t know what it feels like winning a sectional in a single-class system and I do not want to undermine how special winning a sectional championship is. It is a great accomplishment and there is a great amount of pride felt from the program, school and community. “With that said, I would think winning one in a single-class system would feel different for small schools because of the enrollment differences with the teams you would have to beat.”
“Class baseball is a positive. It creates an opportunity for more competition across the board. “Smaller schools with fewer arms benefit the most from class baseball. Larger schools with more pitchers only are at a great advantage over the smaller schools whose best position players are typically also their best arms and usually have far fewer pitcher-only type players. “I would love to play three-game series in the postseason rather than the one-and-done model. I’m not sure it is even possible and have no idea how they could arrange it but I think it better fits baseball. You would get the better TEAMs winning sectionals as opposed to the team with the best arm or two winning them.”
“(Class baseball) is mostly positive. It gives hope for many of the smaller schools to earn a sectional, regional, semi-state ,and state championships. “The negative would be private schools seem to be earning most of these championships. “Private schools (benefit most from class baseball). In the lower classes, private schools have been piling up the state championships. “I would like to have three classes of public schools and one or two classes of private schools.”
“I am old-fashioned, I began coaching when it was a one-class system. I liked the rivalries and going to the local areas to play the sectional games (playing at home or in Terre Haute or Brazil against Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo or West Vigo). “The reason I bring it up, I felt that it was some Hoosier Hysteria in baseball. It was the local teams playing in a sectional and no one had to travel a great distance.
“It is a benefit for a smaller school to advance farther in the (class baseball) tournament. It takes away the big upsets, but more have a chance to reach the state.”
“Class sports has worked out to be a good thing for everyone involved. The competitive nature of each class is relative and that gives everyone the opportunity to see different teams in different years be successful. “The smaller schools most definitely benefit the most due to the shear numbers that are limited they have to choose from. This allows them to compete against like size schools and provide a great experience for the athlete.
“I think the way the IHSAA has it set up is good and there’s not really much to change.”
“Overall class baseball is a positive. It allows for a more-even level of competition. If we look at the schools with larger enrollment it is more common (especially now with pitch count rules) for them to compete with schools their size who have a similar pitching staffs.
“(Who benefits the most from class baseball is a two-pronged answer. On one hand you have smaller schools 1A, 2A, even 3A who have had more of a chance to compete and have success against schools their size. Again, looking at depth of pitching on those levels it creates a more even playing field. Second answer would be the private/parochial/preparatory schools. They have had more success than most public schools in the tournament, yes they fluctuate in classes because of success factor, but also they have the advantage of being able to set an enrollment where public schools do not.
“Maybe add one more class, I’d like to see just what that would look like. Northview is at the top of the 3A scale so that may move us to the bottom of 4A. I don’t know how that would effect everyone. Also maybe look at a multiplier for the private/parochial/preparatory schools in sports like other states have done. Other states have done it and I think it does create a more even system.
“Overall I think class baseball is great. I think however we could all look back to the days of the David vs. Goliath matchups which brought in huge crowds. I would also like to say that I’m not trying to bring anyone down in this because right now I would argue the state of Indiana has as much baseball talent as any state in the Midwest. The coaching in our state has been really great. I enjoy competing against these coaches from all the different classes and I think baseball in Indiana is as good as it has ever been and I think with the classes we’ve seen some great tournaments and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I think (class baseball) is a positive. I was fortunate to have some teams make deep runs in the tournament during my career that likely would not have happened under a one-class system. In fact, one of my best teams at Northfield was during the one-class era and we were beaten by what is now a 4A school. Had that been a class season, we may have had a chance to win state, minimally, made a deeper run. It provides a few more teams the chance to finish as champions thanks to a more level playing field. “More communities (benefit from class baseball). When we came back into town after our first championship years ago, there were thousands of people in the Kmart parking lot waiting for us. Then we took the fire engine ride through town and spent the next week getting treated like royalty … That was a great experience for the community of Wabash and the players and their families. All have a memory that will last a lifetime. In the one-class era, very few small communities got to experience the state level. “(Class baseball) is pretty good overall, but I would like to see a more consistent schedule set at the sectional level for all sites as much as possible. That is hard to do since some sectionals have lights, others don’t, and trying to work around graduations. But host schools have the slight advantage of setting a schedule that best suits their pitching staff. Of course, weather can play havoc to the best of schedules and no matter how the schedule is set, someone will still likely be unhappy. “There’s some talk about a slight revamp of the class system to help break down the large enrollment gap between the top and bottom 4A schools. Like most, those at the bottom of 4A just want to have a more balanced system. I appreciate the IHSBCA and IHSAA exploring possible options.”
A large swath of Josh Foster’s life — nearly 20 years — has been attached to baseball at Adams Central Middle/High School in Monroe, Ind. The new Jets head coach was a student manager for three years of middle school. He played for AC for four years under four different head coaches — Dave Neuenschwander, Mark Conrad, Jody Wendle and Herb Bergman. “It was a blessing,” says Foster. “I gained knowledge from all four.” After college, he came back and served junior varsity coach and then varsity assistant. Neuenschwander approached him to let him know 2022 — Nick Neuenschwander’s senior year — would be his last year leading the baseball program. “We were in-sync,” says Foster of himself and Dave Neunschwander, who also imparted lessons to him on the football field. “My senior year, (head coach Rick) Minnich needed to motivate me a little bit. He sent me to Coach Newy who said we need to to step it up. He was not rude, but was not going to sugar-coat it. We’ve had that friendship. “It’s been great having a mentor like that.” Adams Central lost in the baseball sectional in Foster’s junior year (2000) then finished as IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up in his senior season (2001). Foster was one of 19 seniors on the Jets 2000 Class 1A state football championship team and one of nine 12th graders on the baseball and basketball teams (AC advanced to the regional). Foster played three seasons at the Doug Coate-coached University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. “I was transitioning into a closer, but I was ready to get married,” says Foster, who made high school sweetheart and 2002 Adams Central graduate Julie his wife and the couple went about building a family that now includes five children — seventh grader Jencee, fifth grader Jaxsen, fourth grader Jordyn and kingergarteners Judsen and Jarren. Josh has been involved with coach his sons’ youth and travel teams. Kevin Foster, Josh’s father, took him to Pony League practices at 3 and has helped his son as a coach. Adams Central (enrollment around 375) is a member of the Allen County Athletic Conference (with Bluffton, Heritage, Jay County, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan). The Jets were part of an IHSAA Class 2A baseball sectional grouping in 2022 with Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams and Woodlan. Adams Central has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2016. The Jets last won the ACAC in 1976. For the first time in years Adams Central is taking part in IHSAA Limited Contact Period fall practices (two hours two times a week). Led by Foster and junior varsity coach Lance Busse (Class of 2016), these sessions have been attended by up to 12 players — many of them sixth graders. Foster has been putting together AC’s first middle school baseball program. It will likely be a club team with seventh and eighth grade squads playing game against Indiana and Ohio teams during the spring. Two dozen middle school players came out to a recent meeting and more are expected. Foster is seeking volunteers to coach the boys. This supplements the feeder program that is the Monroe Youth League. Besides Busse, Foster expects Jalen Hammond (Class of 2019) to be on the coaching staff. A project on Adams Central’s field calls for leveling the infield and there has been talk of installing a warning track. Knowing the players as he does, Foster is optimistic about the Jets’ potential. “I am expecting a lot out of the guys, says Foster. “We lost nine (to graduation) last year. “If come out ready to work and do things that right way we can be successful.” Class of 2022’s Blake Heyerly at (Vincennes, Ind., University) and Jaren Hildebrand (Spring Arbor University), Class of 2021’s Justin Bultemeier (Ivy Tech Northeast Community College in Fort Wayne) and Class of 2019’s Parker Bates (Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne) are recent Adams Central graduates that moved on to college baseball. “Coach Neuenschwander did a nice job of getting guys seen and plan to continue that,” says Foster. Dalton Combs (Class of 2013) was a 2022 Frontier League All-Star in Washington, Pa. Foster took some of his young players to see Combs in the game. Kyle Baker (Class of 2014) is on the Saint Francis coaching staff. Foster is also Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance agent, based in Monroe.
Sal Aguilar has been a part of baseball success as a player and an assistant coach. He was the starting third baseman for the Hammond (Ind.) Chiefs that went to the Babe Ruth Baseball World Series. The 1998 graduate of Griffith (Ind.) High School was on the coaching staff at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., as the 59ers won IHSAA Class 3A state championships in 2018 and 2019 — two of eight state titles on Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur’s watch. Aguilar’s first year as an assistant at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind., was 2021 and the Wildcats finished as Class 3A state runners-up. Ryan Bridges let his team know that the 2022 season would be his last as Hanover Central head coach since he was taking a job at the school as assistant athletic director to Kelly Bermes. In June, Aguilar was hired to head the Wildcats baseball program. “We have great kids and great community support,” says Aguilar. “We’re excited to embark on this new chapter of Hanover Central baseball. We have a very bright future “We’re not going to shy away from the ultimate goal which is to win a state championship.” Hanover Central (enrollment around 775) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Hammond Bishop Noll, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills, Wheeler and Whiting). The Wildcats were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Culver Military Academy, John Glenn, Kankakee Valley, Knox and River Forest. Hanover Central has won two sectional crowns — 2011 (2A) and 2021 (3A). Players from the Class of 2021 included outfielder Jared Comia (now at the University of Illinois), 6-foot-9 right-handed pitcher Peyton Olejnik (who went to Triton College in River Grove, Ill., and is heading to the University of Oklahoma in 2022-23), left-hander/infielder Bret Matthys (Purdue Northwest) and infielder Blaze Cano (who is transferring from PNW to Calumet of St. Joseph in Whiting). Three athletes in the Class of 2023 expected to play at the next level include shortstop/pitcher Zach Zykowski, pitcher Luka Zakman and two-sport standout Gannan Howes (who is getting attention in baseball and football). Aguilar came to Hanover Central as a teacher in 2020-2 and is entering his 16th year in the classroom. He taught seven years in Texas, three in Illinois and this will be his sixth in Indiana. He instructs HCHS freshmen in Integrated Chemistry and Physics (ICP). Born in Munster, Ind., Aguilar spent his first nine years in East Chicago, Ind. After fourth grade, he moved to Griffith and attended St. Mary School then went to Griffith High School for four years. He earned three baseball letters for the Todd Iwema-coached Panthers. Aguilar played for the Hammond Seminoles in 1997 then for Dave Sutkowski’s Hammond Chiefs in 1998 and 1999. “The kids call him Bush,” says Aguilar of Sutkowski. “I learned a lot from Dave as a young kid about building relationships with players.” One way to do that at Hanover Central is through junior high baseball program. Thirty players in grades 6-8 play and practice in the fall. “That’s a huge asset for our program,” says Aguilar. “It’s all hands on deck here so varsity coaches are going to run that team. We’re going to be able install and implement our brands of offense and defense. “We get to cultivate those lifelong relationships with those kids at a very young age.” Aguilar’s coaching staff includes four Hanover Central graduates — Nic Sampognaro (Class of 2011) with the varsity, twins Sam Momcilovic (Class of 2019) and Evan Momcilovic (2019) with the junior varsity and Mike Biegel (Class of 2018) as freshman head coach. Former Hammond Bishop Noll and Merrillville head coach Paul Wirtz lends his experience to the varsity staff. Jesse Forrester (Lowell Class of 2019) is a freshman assistant. Aguilar finished his college degree at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2006. His teaching and coaching career began shortly after that. He came back to Indiana and married Griffith alum Brittany Clark in 2016. Sal and Brittany Aguilar have two children — Luis (5) and Gianna (2). “(Brittany) knows it’s not easy being a coach’s wife,” says Sal. “We’re lucky to have family around to help us out.”
Tyler Burcham has gotten to know a few things about Batesville, Ind., in his four years of teaching there and five seasons as a baseball coach. “We have a town that really rallies around its baseball,” says Burcham, who was a Batesville High School assistant from 2018-22 and recently took over the program from alum Justin Tucker, who guided the BHS program 2016-22. “I learned a lot from (Coach Tucker) and — hopefully — I can continue to push this program in the right direction.” The Bulldogs won 20 games and lost to Franklin County in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Rushville Consolidated Sectional in 2022. Batesville (enrollment around 715) is a member of the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated and South Dearborn). Besides Franklin County and Rushville Consolidated, the Bulldogs were part of a 3A sectional grouping in 2022 with Connersville, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg and South Dearborn. Batesville has won 13 sectional titles — the last two in 2018 and 2021. Burcham, who teaches Health and Physical Education to eighth graders at Batesville Middle School, has already met with some returning players from the Class of 2023 (middle infielder Charlie Schebler is an Ohio State University commit) and morning weightlifting sessions have happened the past two weeks. The goal is to build team chemistry and commitment. “We’re having a lot of guys coming through this program who want to play collegiately,” says Burcham. “Our next step is to push our potential and see how much harder can we hit the baseball and how much harder we can throw it. “There’s culture build-up. We want to see how much further can we take this thing.” Two alums — Zach Britton (Class of 2017) and Bryan Hoeing (Class of 2015) — are in professional baseball and come to work with the next wave during their off-seasons. “They’ve elevated those expectations,” says Burcham. Zach Wade (Class of 2022) has gone on to baseball at Adrian (Mich.) College. Other recent graduates who signed at the next level include Class of 2021’s Sam Voegele (Indiana University Southeast) and Riley Zink (Oakland City University) and Class of 2019’s Trey Heidlage (Marian University) and Lane Oesterling (Indiana University Southeast). Doug Burcham, Tyler’s father, has joined the coaching staff. Other assistants are being sought. The elder Burcham coached at Waldron in 2022 and recently accepted as job as math teacher at Greensburg. Doug Burcham was teaching and coach in Versailles, Ind., when Tyler went to school at South Ripley until second grade and then moved to Greensburg. Tyler did not play varsity as a freshman, when his father was Pirates head coach. Scott Holdsworth was at the head of the program during his three varsity years. “I remember his ability to create relationships,” says Burcham of Holdsworth. “He motivated players as if they were adults and treated them as such. I always appreciated that about Scott.” Burcham is a 2013 graduate of Greensburg High School, where he was part of successful programs in soccer, football, basketball and baseball. He was the first man off the bench for the 2013 3A state boys basketball champions. Recruited by outgoing coach Matt Kennedy, left-handed pitcher Burcham played two baseball seasons at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., for Cobras head coach David Garcia, then two more for Mark Brew at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. Brew has been Flames head coach since the 2007 season and has enjoyed success at the NAIA and NCAA Division II levels. Burcham recalls Brew’s attention to detail. “We’d practice standing from the National Anthem and he’d grade us on it,” says Burcham. “Everything we did we tried to make sure we were really good at it. “He always wanted us to be good men. He’s a big family guy and wants the best for everybody.” After Lee, Tyler was a full-time substitute at Batesville and spent a few months helping his father at Waldron when the opportunity arose to join the Tucker’s Batesville baseball staff. The Bulldogs plays home games off-campus at Liberty Park, which celebrated its 100th year of baseball in 2021. Batesville shares a skinned-infield diamond with the Oldenburg Academy baseball program and Batesville adult slow pitch softball. Varsity games and practices are coordinated with Oldenburg. Junior varsity and C-team practices take place at an on-campus field which is adjacent to the football stadium and is considered too small for varsity play.
Batesville Bats — founded by Brandon Blessing and Paul Drake — are a travel organization that worked closely with Tucker and will continue to help Burcham. The 2023 season will be the eighth season for the Bats. There will be teams for 9U to 15U. Tyler’s mother — Cindy Burcham — is a former nurse and current case manager for Indiana University Health. Both brothers are older. Kyle Burcham works for Amazon and lives in Santa Claus, Ind. Shawn Burcham works with a sports program app and resides in Indianapolis. Tyler and Carissa Burcham were married in July 2021. “She’s been a rock star during this whole thing,” says Tyler of his wife. “She wants to help in any way she can. “I think she knows how much it means to me.”
Reese Sharp has thrown a baseball 97 mph. The right-handed hurler regularly tops 92. It was with added muscle that he increased his velocity and raised his profile in the game. “Strength has always been one of main qualities,” says Sharp, who plays for Indiana University and is with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. “Being strong and explosive has helped me develop as a pitcher.” Born and raised in Hamilton County, Ind., Sharp began school in the Hamilton Heights system before moving to Noblesville early in his elementary years. He played baseball for three seasons at Noblesville High School and finished up his prep career at University High in nearby Carmel, Ind., where he helped the Chris Estep-coached Trailblazers to the 2019 IHSAA Class 1A state championship with 17 strikeouts in the title game against Washington Township. A rec ball player when his family lived in Cicero, Sharp began taking lessons from Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield at 9 and played for the travel organization led by Estep — the Indiana Mustangs — from 9U through the end of high school. It was at Noblesville that Sharp was introduced to serious strength and conditioning training by former Butler University pitcher Brian Clarke. Sharp credits Clarke not only for teaching him about weightlifting but the mental side, too. The Millers head S&C coordinator taught his athletes about E + R = O (Event plus Response equals Outcome). “Outcome doesn’t determine how you perform,” says Sharp. “It’s something I have taken with me throughout my career. It’s really helped. “The process is what’s most important. You can’t control the outcome.” Sharp has learned to pitch with a short memory and keep his composure even in the tightest jams. He doesn’t let it bother him when opponents and fans are chirping and he’s given up a big hit or multiple runs. “There’s nothing you can do about it now,” says Sharp. “You’ve got to go and execute the next pitch.” Sharp, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, redshirted as an IU freshman in 2020. In his two seasons with the Jeff Mercer-coached Hoosiers, he is 3-8 with a 5.86 earned run average in 34 appearances (33 as a reliever). In 66 innings, he has 90 strikeouts and 34 walks. All four of his saves came in 2022. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm angle, Sharp uses a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball, slider and “circle” change-up. “My four-seamer — on a good day — is sitting about 92 to 94 and touching 95,” says Sharp. “I got it up to 97. “My curveball is 12-to-6. My slider has horizontal movement and is completely different than my curveball. It breaks away from righties and and into lefties. My change-up has a little big of tail, drop and depth to it. “Developing four-pitch mix, the goal in my mind is to be a starter. But whatever the team needs me to do to win I’m going to do that.” While in Bloomington, Sharp has worked with two pitching coaches — Justin Parker and Dustin Glant. “(Parker) is a really good mental coach,” says Sharp of the coach now at the University of South Carolina. “He’s very good at getting you prepared to compete and teaches pitchers how to be explosive off the mound. He’s one of the reasons I got a velocity jump in college (coming throwing 89 to 92 mph and touching 93 in the first couple bullpens). “(Current Indiana pitching coach Glant) is kind of like a pitching guru. He knows his stuff and is a really smart guy. He was with the Yankees and learned a lot of analytical stuff. He has brought that to IU. He helped me develop my slider. It’s become on of my main swing-and-miss pitches.” The CCBL season is in his second week. Sharp has pitched four innings. “There’s a really cool atmosphere here,” says Sharp. “We have one ‘off’ day a week. We use those to relax. Baseball can take a toll on your body.” While there has been no youth camps yet, Sharp says he enjoys sharing his baseball knowledge with youngsters and sees coaching in his future. Sharp did not play baseball in the summer of 2019. He went to IU, took summer classes and became familiar with the campus and the weight room there. He played with and competed against friends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield in 2020. Last summer, Sharp was with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Winnipesaukee Muskrats. A Sports Marketing and Management major, Sharp has two more semesters to complete his degree. Adam and Sophia Sharp have two children — Meme (25) and Reese (21). Adam Sharp is a long-time firefighter in Carmel. Sophia Sharp is a nurse. Meme Sharp-Machado is a Noblesville graduate who was a diver at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was just getting them work out there.” That was the response of Ben Gregory when he was told that he had so many fly-ball outs behind him in tossing a three-hitter to help Penn (26-6) beat Indianapolis Cathedral 3-0 in a clash of unranked teams for the IHSAA Class 4A state baseball title Saturday, June 18 in the 2022 State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The senior right-hander got Fighting Irish batters to fly out nine times with seven strikeouts, one pop-up, one line-out and a groundout (the the 21st and final out). He faced 24 batters and threw 84 pitches. He retired the side in the seventh with a line-out, strikeout and groundout. “I was trying to keep them off-balance,” said Gregory, who helped the Kingsmen to their fifth state crown (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015, 2022). “I had curveball and change-up working most of the game and I was keeping the fastball higher in the (strike) zone so (Cathedral hitters) were getting under it a little bit.” Sophomore Patrick Mazur produced a one-hit single and sophomore J.T. Stiner was hit by a Gregory pitch with two outs before the Penn pitcher got a rally-squelching strikeout in the Irish first. “This is easily the biggest game I’ve ever pitched in my entire life,” said Gregory. “Being able to come off that little bit of adversity definitely calmed me down. “Once we scored in the bottom of the first I knew we were in control of the game.” Gregory, who had elbow surgery in the off-season, not only got to loft the state championship trophy Saturday. But he was named winner of the Bob Gardner Mental Attitude Award. “I’ve dealt with a lot,” said Gregory. “Nine months ago I had no idea if I’d ever play again. “Just being put up for that award means so much because my coached trusted me to be the recipient. I truly love the coaching staff.” Greg Dikos has been Penn’s head coach for 35 years and all of the state titles (and a runner-up finish in 2017). He talked about his hurler and his team. “One of (Gregoy’s) most-effective traits is changing speeds,” said Dikos. “Last year that was his bread and butter — that change-up. That would fool a lot of hitters and get them to pop up. It’s a wicked pitch. “I’m just so happy. I never thought in the world he was going to make it seven innings. He hasn’t pitched seven innings all year.” What’s championship No. 5 mean? “It’s different (with each one),” said Dikos. “One for the thumb. They’re all special. “It’s humbling. I watch the kids how they practice, develop that team chemistry and just work their butts off and start playing for one another.” Senior right-handed submariner Ben Gomez tossed all six innings for the Irish and gave up six singles with one strikeout and three walks over 76 pitches. “We didn’t exactly know what to expect from (Gomez),” said Dikos. “We tried to mimic (the delivery) at practice. “I preach that we’ve got to take what they give you. If they pitch outside you’ve got to scrap and grind and go the opposite way.” Penn went down in order in the sixth against Gomez with a strikeout and two fly-outs. A one-out single by junior Carson Johnson was followed by a strikeout and an inning-ending fielder’s choice in the Cathedral sixth. The Kingsmen left the bases loaded in a score-free fifth. The third out came when junior Irish shortstop Kyuss Gargett made a diving stop on a ball hit up the middle and beat the runner to the second base bag for a force-out. The Irish had two fly-outs and pop-up in going down in order in the fifth. Penn got one run in the fourth for a 3-0 lead. Junior Evan Tuesley led off with a single, moved to second base on junior Colton Hudnall’s sacrifice bunt and scored on senior Zach Hoskins’ two-out single. Cathedral (18-11-2) went down 1-2-3 in the fourth with fly-outs to center, right and left. Gomez coaxed the Kingsmen into three groundouts and were not hurt by an error in the bottom of the third. Cathedral went down on three fly-outs in the third, including a sprinting grab by right fielder Tuesley for the final out of the stanza. Penn’s edge moved to 2-0 with a run in the second. Gregory poked a lead-off single. Junior courtesy runner Mason Campbell stole second base, moved to third base on Hudnall’s single and crossed the plate on junior Cooper Hums’ groundout. The frame ended with the bases loaded. Gregory yielded a single to sophomore Chris Klug then picked him off first base for the first out of a score-free Irish second. Gregory fanned the next two hitters. Penn scored the game’s first run in its half the first for a 1-0 lead. Hoskins led off with a single, stole second base, moved to third base on a groundout and crossed the plate thanks to a passed ball. Cathedral left two runners in a scoreless first. “There were three or four ball that were hit really well but just right at somebody,” said sixth-year Cathedral coach Ed Freje of his team’s offensive night. “That’s baseball. They made some really good plays and we were beat by a really solid pitcher.” The Irish were going for a fourth state championship — the most-recent being a 4-3 win in eight innings against Penn in 2017. Cathedral now has six runner-up finishes.
Lafayette Central Catholic got on the scoreboard early and managed to work out of some jams in besting Tecumseh 4-1 in the IHSAA Class 1A baseball state championship Saturday, June 18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. The No. 3-ranked Knights beat the unranked Braves at the 2022 State Finals for the program’s eighth 1A title (2004, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013). Lafayette Central Catholic scored two runs in the first inning and added markers in the fourth and fifth while Tecumseh tallied a fourth-inning run and finished the contest with nine runners left on base. “All year Owen Munn and Evan Dienhart kind of set the table for us,” said 27th-year Knights coach Tim Bordenet. “Ben (Mazur) has a knack of pitching out of trouble. He bears down when there’s traffic out there. “He did that today.” Junior Munn went 1-for-3 with two runs scored. Junior Dienhart was 2-of-2 with a run. Junior Mazur went 1-for-2 with an RBI. On the mound, he gave up five hits and one unearned run with six strikeouts and three walks for 119 pitches. Tecumseh junior center fielder Chase Jones took a hit away from junior T.J. Bell with a diving catch for the first out in the Lafayette Central Catholic sixth. A scoreless Braves sixth included a one-out walk by Jones and two-out walk by freshman Mason Gogel with a rally-ending caught-looking strikeout by Mazur. With on run in the fifth, the Knights went ahead 4-1. Munn reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to third base on an error and scored on a single by Mazur. Tecumseh left two runners and came up empty in the fifth following a one-out single by junior Conner Anglin and two-out single by junior Dax Bailey. Lafayette Central Catholic (27-6) took a 3-1 edge with one run in the fourth. Bell singled off the wall in right. Junior courtesy runner Nathan Bapst moved to second on a groundout and scored on a throwing error following a groundout for the second out of the inning. The Braves tallied one run in the fourth to pull within 2-1. Junior Brody Julian reached on an error, moved to second base on a wild pitch, third base on a single by Bailey (Tecumseh’s first hit of the game) and scored when junior Drew DuPont got on by error. The frame — that included three Knight defensive miscues — ended with the bases loaded. Mazur recorded two strikeouts and a coerced a fly-out. Lafayette Central Catholic stranded two runners in a scoreless third. Dienhart produced a two-out infield single Mazur walked (and was spelled by courtesy runner Bapst) before Braves right-hander Bailey coaxed an inning-ending groundout. Anglin lined a two-out single and was thrown on trying to steal second base — junior catcher Ryan Schummer to shortstop Dienhart in a score-free Tecumseh third. The Knight second ended on a Tecumseh double play — shortstop Julian tagging second base and firing to first baseman Drew DuPont, retiring junior runner Tyler Fox (who singled) and sophomore batter Kayden Minnich. The Braves went down in order against Mazur in the second with a line-out, fly-out and strikeout. Lafayette Central Catholic tallied two runs in its half of the first to go up 2-0. Munn smacked a lead-off double and scored on an error as Dienhart put down a bunt single and advanced to second base. Dienhart stole third base and beat the throw home on Schummer’s sacrifice fly to center. Tecumseh left a runner at third base in a scoreless first. Lead-off hitter Anglin drew a walk and moved around on a wild pitch and groundout but got no further against LCC’s Mazur. Bailey went all six innings on the mound for the Braves and gave up six hits and four runs (three earned) with six strikeouts and three walks over 95 pitches. Lafayette Central Catholic senior Justin Brady took home the Phil Gardner Mental Attitude Award. Tecumseh (19-13) was attempting to win the program’s second state title (the other came in 2003) and the Braves are now three-time state runners-up. There were no seniors and 11 freshmen on Tecumseh’s 20-man tournament roster. “If we don’t make those mistakes it’s really a 1-1 ballgame,” said fifth-year Braves coach Ted Thompson of Saturday’s contest. “You don’t know what happens at that point. “Today was just not our day.”
When Tyler Schweitzer stepped onto the Ball State University campus in Muncie, Ind., in the fall of 2019, he joined the baseball team at about 6-foot and 155 pounds. Flash forward to the spring of 2022 and 21-year-old Schweitzer is 6-1 and 185 and at the front of the Cardinals’ starting rotation. He was to get the ball today (Thursday, May 19) at Miami (Ohio) to begin a four-game series to end the regular season. Ball State (34-17, 28-7) trails Central Michigan (36-15, 28-6) for first place in the Mid-American Conference. Starting Friday, CMU plays three against visiting Toledo. The top four finishers in the MAC race make the conference tournament with the regular-season champion as host. Schweitzer, a left-handed pitcher, dedicated himself to strength training. “Most of it was from the weight room and eating a lot,” says Schweitzer, who credits Ball State baseball strength and conditioning coach Bill Zenisek for helping him with squats, lunges and dead lifts for his legs and rows and dumb bell presses for his upper body. “I’ve felt healthier in this weight range. I feel stronger. It makes me more confident in myself. I’ve gained a lot of the velo.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Schweitzer delivers his four-seam fastball at 90 to 93 mph, topping out at 94. “I try to throw it straight but it usually tails and sometimes it might cut,” says Schweitzer of the four-seamer. “My curve is 11-to-5. I throw a sweeping slider (with more vertical drop than horizontal movement). I have a circle change-up (that sinks). “I’ve been messing with grips for a couple years now. I’ve found one that I’m comfortable with.” Schweitzer, who is 9-2 in 13 mound appearances (all starts) with a 2.48 earned run average, 94 strikeouts and 26 walks in 76 1/3 innings, has become comfortable as the No. 1 weekend starter after being used in relief his first two seasons at Ball State. “The relief role I liked a lot,” says Schweitzer. “Coach (Rich Maloney) would put me in stressful situations. I would have to calm the fire. “Being a starter, I have a longer leash. I’m capable of getting in a rhythm and doing my thing.” At the beginning of the season, a pitch count maximum of 70 to 90 was observed. Now it’s about what’s happing in the game. “You’re on your own until Coach comes out there and takes you out,” says Schweitzer, who has two complete games. “It might be crunch time and the closer can come in and give us the win. “It becomes very situational at the end.” Schweitzer is OK turning the ball over to closer Sam Klein. “When I know he’s coming in, the door is shut for the other team,” says Schweitzer of Klein. “For him to come into the game, I know we’re in a good spot. Sophomore right-hander Klein (Bloomington North Class of 2020) is 3-2 with nine saves and a 3.51 ERA. Schweitzer, who has been the MAC Pitcher of the Week three times, enjoys playing for head coach Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully. “(Maloney) is a successful coach and winning is fun,” says Schweitzer, who has helped Ball State post win streaks of 10 and 11 this spring. “When we lose we all take it very seriously and try not to do it again. “(Scully) keeps it very light with all the pitchers. He brings a change of pace when needed.” Schweitzer is a 2019 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. He helped the Royals win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior. His head coach for the first three years was Scott Henson with Jeremy Sassanella leading HSE in Schweitzer’s final prep season. “He was the one who got my work ethic the way it is today,” says Schweitzer of Henson. “Coach Sassanella gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities.” Schweitzer credits Sassanella for building a brotherhood culture that led to the 2019 state crown. The lefty pitcher three key relief innings during that 3-2 win against Columbus East. Born in Indianapolis, Schweitzer grew up in Fishers. He played travel for the Indiana Prospects, an unaffiliated team, The Cats (a merger of HSE and Fishers players), USAthletic and then back to the Indiana Prospects leading into his senior high school season. At the request of then-Ball State pitching coach Dustin Glant (now at Indiana University), Schweitzer took off the summer of 2019 to rest his arm. The southpaw played for the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020 and the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks (Mequon, Wis.) in 2021. What he does this summer will depend on how many innings he gets with Ball State. Schweitzer, who is pursuing a double major in Accounting and Economics, is a junior academically and has two years of eligibility remaining because of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season of 2020. Joe Schweitzer, Tyler’s father, is an independent contractor who instills signs. His mother, Susan Binford, owns a furniture company that sells to schools and colleges. Stepmother Lisa Schweitzer is a sale representative for a graphics company. Tyler’s sister Lindsey Schweitzer (22) studies Chemistry at Purdue University.