By STEVE KRAH
Michael Dunkelberger did something last spring that many college baseball pitchers do not get to do — call their own pitches.
The left-hander at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., says those decisions get made by coaches the overwhelming majority of the time.
Dunkelberger, a 2018 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School who turned 23 in August, was on a team full of older players thanks largely to the extra years of eligibility given because of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
That extra time led to wisdom which helped lead to the ability make the right decisions under fire.
“It takes time to be able to call your own pitches,” says Dunkelberger, one of a handful on his staff given the chance to call pitches. “You have practice and bullpens and you talk through scouting reports.”
At the beginning of the year, he scored well on an online cognitive test.
“It showed how well you can instinctively learn and figure out what’s working well and what’s not,” says Dunkelberger, who credits Lipscomb pitching coach Matt Myers for helping him progress.
“He was very similar to me in college,” says Dunkelberger of Myers, who was a lefty pitcher at the University of Tennessee. “He taught me about the mental side and how to go deep in games.
“I was learning how to dissect the hitters swings and able to call my own game.”
It was the first time in his college career he got to call pitches. It had been since the end of his days at Saint Joseph when Indians head coach John Gumpf allowed Dunkelberger and catcher/classmate Luke Houin to make those decisions.
As a junior, Dunkelberger pitched a three-hitter as Saint Joseph beat Jasper 4-0 for the IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
The lefty struck out four, walked two and hit two batters in a seven-inning complete game.
“That junior year team was a lot of fun,” says Dunkelberger. “I grew up with those guys. We played together from 7 or 8 (on The Baseball Factory travel team) and went to the same high school.”
Beating John Glenn 9-7 in extra innings in the Griffith Regional was a highlight of the state title run.
“There were a lot of characters on the team,” says Dunkelberger. “(Coach Gumpf) he let us be ourselves and go out and play. We were a very talented team. A lot of guys on that team played college baseball.”
Taking stock of his best athletic qualities, Dunkelberger puts experience and pitchability at the top.
“There are guys that throw a lot harder than me,” says Dunkelberger. “I earned from an early age how to get guys out without having to throw hard.”
Coming from an arm slot that’s close to over-the-top, Dunkelberger throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider.
His four-seamer tops out at 92 mph. His two-seamer gets up to 90. His curve is of the 12-to-6 variety. His “split” change goes straight down. A new trend on the college scene is a “sweeper” slider and the southpaw throws one of those.
Strength training in college allowed the athlete to come up to 6-foot and 215 pounds.
Dunkelberger, who did not see action at Indiana University in 2019 and pitched at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College in 2020 and 2021, made a splash in his first season with Lipscomb in 2022.
He made 15 appearances (13 as a starter) and went 7-3 with 3.45 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 18 walks in 78 1/3 innings while being named to second-team all-ASUN Conference.
Cody Piechocki was Dunkelberger’s head coach at KVCC and with the summer wood bat Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo Growlers/Mac Daddies from 2019-21 (because of his spring workload Dunkelberger did not play in the summer of 2022).
“He was great,” says Dunkelberger of Piechocki, who is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers. “He helped me develop on the pitching side with command and velocity.
“He reminded me of Gumpf, letting me be me. Through my failures, he stuck by me.”
In nine starts at Kalamazoo Valley, Dunkelberger went 6-1 with a 3.24 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 50 innings and was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.
He was going to transfer to the University of Oregon. But COVID-19 changed his scholarship status and he decided to re-enter the recruiting process and he and KVCC roommate Collin Witzke wound up at Lipscomb.
The Bisons — with Jeff Forehand as head coach — went 35-23 in 2022 after an 18-29 ledger in 2021.
Dunkelberger has two more years of remaining eligibility and is getting ready for 2023 while he is on pace to earn a Business Management in the spring.
Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dunkelberger came to northern Indiana around 3 and grew up in Granger. He played youth baseball in Clay Township and was with a Chicago White Sox-sponsored travel team after The Baseball Factory.
Michael is the second-oldest of Scott and Laura Dunkelberger’s four children. Nick Boyd played football at South Bend Riley High School. Victoria Dunkelberger played softball at Penn High School. Penn junior Julianna Dunkelberger played volleyball as a freshman.
Scott Dunkelberger played baseball at Riley and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and is now a pharmaceutical sales representative. Laura Dunkelberger works for the State of Indiana, finding resources for special needs children.
Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)