Sean Cunningham is now in charge of the baseball program at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., after two seasons as an assistant coach. Cunningham held a call-out meeting with the Bearcats Thursday, Sept. 1. About 20 attended with several more involved in fall sports. It is hoped that Wheeler will field varsity and junior varsity teams in 2023. “We have a lot of incoming freshmen,” says Cunningham. “It will depend on numbers in the spring.” Two points of emphasis for Cunningham as he gets Wheeler ready are off-season conditioning and pitching. “With our weight lifting and running, players got a little lackadaisical last year,” says Cunningham. “They were not pushing themselves very hard. In hotter games last year the guys dragged a little bit. “Pitching was a weak point for us last year. We have a lot of talent on the mound. I don’t think its been utilized yet.” To help with that, Cunningham has brought Paul Lipski in as pitching coach. Lipski and Cunningham served together on head coach Cory Mack’s staff at Morgan Township in 2017. The Cherokees registered several earned run averages below 3.00 and went 15-12 in 2017 and 20-6 in 2018, winning an IHSAA Class 2A sectional title in the latter season. Lipski, Mack and Wheeler graduate Alex Hutman (Class of 2021) make up Cunningham’s Bearcats staff. Cunningham coached three seasons with Jeff Rochowiak at Michigan City (2018-20). Jeff Enright (now athletic director at Wheeler) was head baseball coach with Cunningham as an assistant. “I liked his whole off-field philosophy and mindset,” says Cunningham of Enright’s approach. “We work as a team. I plan to continue that same exact kind of field in the locker room and in the dugout.” Wheeler alum Rex Stills (Class of 2021) pitched in 17 games as a Purdue Fort Wayne in 2022. Mason Leckrone (Class of 2023) is currently weighing his college options. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period began Aug. 29 and goes through Oct. 15. Wheeler (enrollment around 440) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, and Whiting). There are 12 GSSC games with some teams meeting twice and other once. The Bearcats were part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping in 2022 with Bowman Leadership Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting. Wheeler, which calls Richard Wendt Field home, has won six sectional titles — the last in 2021. Cunningham was born in Oak Lawn, Ill., and moved to Valparaiso at 5. He played baseball for four years at Valparaiso High School — two for Todd Coffin then two for Mickey Morandini. “Todd Coffin was a small-ball coach,” says Cunningham. “We learned how to play small ball the right way. “(Mickey Morandini) was a good person.” Cunningham graduated from Purdue North Central in 2014 and began teaching elementary school in Michigan City. He is now a sixth grade math teacher at Union Township Middle School. He has also been an instructor at Triple Crown Baseball and Softball Training Center in Valparaiso though he has not worked in a few months. Sean and wife Kristen Eleftheri-Cunningham had their first child — Oliver Eleftheri-Cunningham — in June.
Carter Doorn enjoyed a super season in his first summer since becoming a college baseball pitcher. The right-hander saw limited action at Purdue University in the spring then turned heads with the 2022 Lima (Ohio) Locos of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. The 2021 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., made four mound appearances for the Boilermakers (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 9.82 earned run average, five strikeouts and five walks over 3 2/3 innings. Combining the regular season, a 1-2-3 frame in the July 12 GLSCL All-Star Game in Mason, Ohio, and the playoffs, Doorn pitched in 10 games (eight starts) representing the Locos and went 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA, 54 strikeouts and 23 walks over 48 innings. During his award-taking summer, he was named the Lou Laslo Pitcher of the Year and Tony Lucadello Top Pitcher Prospect in the GLSCL’s North Division and was also chosen first-team all-league. Doorn fanned 11 in six innings July 15 against the visiting Grand Lake Mariners (Celina, Ohio) and whiffed nine in six frames June 21 in a road game vs. the Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers. In a one-inning stint in Game 3 of the league championship series July 31 against the Hamilton Joes, Doorn achieved a personal-best with a 96 mph four-seam fastball. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder landed in Lima thanks to a Purdue connection. Boilers volunteer assistant coach Daniel Furuto is a former Locos manager and is the brother of 2022 Lima manager Matt Furuto. Purdue infielder Ty Gill (Valparaiso High School Class of 2021) also played for the team this summer. Doorn’s pitch selection has changed over time. With the Locos, he used the four-seamer (which sat 90 to 92 mph), sinker, slider, curveball and change-up. He went with the four-seamer, curve and slider in 3-2 counts. When behind in the count, Doorn would often use his sinker (combination one- or two-seamer) that goes drops and gets on the hands of right-handed hitters. His slider — thrown in the low 80s — is a mix of a cutter and traditional slider. “It does not have much depth,” says Doorn, 19. “It moves a lot from right to left. It moves away from a right-hander.” Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, his curve drops almost 12-to-6 on the clock face. It goes away from a righty and into a lefty. “My curveball is my best breaking pitch,” says Doorn. A “circle” change-up moves into a right and away from a lefty. Born in Chicago, Doorn grew up in Schererville, Ind. His 11U summer was his last at Dyer (Ind.) Little League and his first in travel ball with Morris Baseball. He played for some other travel teams in tournaments, but was primarily with Morris. He spent his 17U summer with the Dave Sutkowski-coached 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs (formerly the Hammond/Morris Chiefs). “Coach Bush is really, really wise,” says Doorn of Sutkowski. “When he says something you have to listen.” Doorn, who committed to Purdue even before that summer leading into his senior year of high school, respects how Sutkowski takes a different group of 17-year-olds year after year and helps them find a college baseball home. “He shows how much he cares for these kids’ development and the career they have ahead of them,” says Doorn. Carter is the oldest of Karl and Carli Doorn’s two children. Carpenter/contractor Karl Doorn played baseball and football at Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., Veterans Administration nurse practitioner Carli Doorn played volleyball and basketball and Illiana Christian High School when it was located in Lansing, Ill. Indiana Wesleyan University-bound Mia Doorn (18) played four seasons of varsity volleyball at Illiana Christian, which is now located in Dyer. Carter spent his first two prep years at Illiana Christian and his last two at Lake Central. His head baseball coaches were Darren DeBoer with the Vikings and Mike Swartzentruber with the Indians. “He’s an awesome dude,” says Doorn of DeBoer. “He’s super, super caring for players and the program. Being athletic director and a coach shows his devotion. “I never had a bad experience with him. He always knows what to say at the right time. He’s really good with words.” Though the COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 season, Doorn did get to experience Swartzentruber. “He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life,” says Doorn of Swartzentruber. “He always wants the best for whoever he associates himself with “He’s a gritty coach and you can always ask him questions.” In his one season for Lake Central (2021), Doorn was an all-Duneland Athletic Conference honoree, Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District A Player of the Year and an IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series selection. The pitcher/corner infielder was also finalist for IHSBCA Player of the Year after posting strong pitching and hitting numbers. On the mound, he was 8-1 with a 1.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and 94 strikeouts in 48 innings with a no-hitter. He struck out 12 and 14 in consecutive starts. He also hit .406 with 47 runs batted in and a 1.212 OPS (.522 on-base percentage plus .690 slugging average) in 28 games. Doorn spent the summer of 2021 living in central Indiana on weekdays training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and playing for the Greg Vogt-coached 18U Mambas on the weekend. Deciding he wanted to throw a baseball harder, Doorn gave up basketball after his ninth grade year and hit the weights to put some muscle on what was then a 6-3, 135-pound frame. His goal has been to develop year after year he got to work on becoming bigger, faster and stronger at PRP while continuing work with former Morris Chiefs coach Anthony Gomez. Thinking he would pursue a path to become a dentist, Doorn entered Purdue as a Biology major. He has since changed to Construction Management Technology. “I grew up on the construction scene on my dad’s job sites,” says Doorn for his decision to switch majors. Doorn, who turns 20 on Aug. 24, plans to heads back to West Lafayette a week before that. A team meeting is planned for Aug. 21, followed by six weeks or so of individual work then full team practice. With a number of graduations, transfers and pitchers being selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Doorn expects Purdue pitching staff to look much different in 2023. Gone are all three weekend starters — Jackson Smeltz (drafted in the 10th round by the San Diego Padres), Wyatt Wendell (signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Troy Wansing (transferred to Texas A&M).
Ryan Troxel is splitting his time this summer between college pitcher, youth pitching coach banking intern. He takes the mound for the wood bat Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs, which call Legacy Fields in Crown Point, Ind., home. On his off days, he guides arms for Valparaiso (Ind.) American Legion Post 94 Juniors (17U). “I’ve missed a few (Legion) games because I had to pitch,” says Troxel. “Other than that, I’ve been there. “I’ve been a busy man.” Troxel, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso High School, pitched a scoreless ninth inning with three strikeouts during the 2022 Northern League All-Star Game. A Finance and Management double major at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Troxel is a summer intern for Centier Bank in Merrillville, Ind. Troxel explains why he changed his academic path from Business to Finance. “Finance gives you the options to help people know their (money) goals,” says Troxel. “I also coach baseball because I love helping people.” On the diamond, the right-hander was on the winning side as the East topped the West 5-4 in 10 innings July 12 at Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind. Troxel’s performance was fitting because the CornDogs right-hander has a regular-season scoreless streak of 12 innings covering last three outings. In eight games (six in relief), he is 3-0 with a 0.65 earned run average. He has 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 2/3 innings. He was named Northern League Pitcher of the Week on July 5. A 6-foot-3, 220-pounder, Troxel is coming off his second season at NAIA member Indiana Tech. In seven games (all in relief), he was 0-4 with 14 strikeouts and 15 walks in 27 innings. In his first season with the Warriors (2021), Troxel came out of the bullpen 11 times and was 8-3 with a 4.46 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings. Kip McWilliams is Indiana Tech’s head coach and has also taken over pitching coach duties. “He gives us a lot of latitude to do what we want to get ready,” says Troxel of McWilliams. “He’s (coached) for a long time. He knows a lot about the game. “He’s definitely hard on guys. He expects a lot out of us. But — hey — we won a lot of games.” Tech went 32-21 and lost two one-run games as Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runners-up in 2022. McWilliams earned his 500th coaching win in April. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Troxel uses a four-seam fastball (which has reached 87 mph), curveball, slider (which is generally clocked around 75 mph) and change-up. “I get most of my outs on off-speed pitches,” says Troxel. “I throw my change-up a lot more now. It’s really helped me against left-handers because left-handers have always killed me.” Last weekend, Valpo Post 94 won a regional championship. This weekend, Post 94 is hosting the Indiana American Legion Junior State Tournament at VHS. In 2020, Troxel played for Rocco Mossuto-coached Saint Xavier University (Chicago). In a season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, he appeared in three games (one start) and was 0-0 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, eight strikeouts and eight walks in eight innings. Troxel played for Todd Evans at Valparaiso High. “He gave me a chance during my senior year to prove to him that I could be in the rotation,” says Troxel of Evans. “I think I had a pretty good senior year and he helped me a long the way.” Troxel went 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA and was honorable mention all-state, all-Duneland Athletic Conference, all-area and team MVP in 2019. Born in Elmhurst, Ill., Troxel was 1 when he moved to Valparaiso, where he played Little League then travel ball for the Chesterton Slammers, Triple Crown, Morris Chiefs and Valparaiso Post 94. He is grateful Chiefs coach Dave Sutkowski for his support. “He kept saying, ‘I believe in you,’” says Troxel of Sutkowski. “It was never about him. He was very influential in my choosing to play college baseball and also to move on and keep playing.” Ryan is the oldest of Jeff and Michele Troxel. Brother Zach Troxel is heading into his sophomore year at Valpo. He is pitching this summer for the Indiana Bulls. Jerry Troxel, Ryan and Zach’s grandfather who died in 2021, coached baseball for four decades at Gary Wirt. One of his players was Ron Kittle, who went on to be a major league slugger. “I really do love (coaching),” says Ryan Troxel. “It’s in my blood. That’s definitely in the future for me.”
Jordan Schaffer has come to the end of his eligibility after a memorable collegiate baseball career. Now he’s continuing in amateur ball while wondering if he might get to play for pay. Schaeffer, a 2016 graduate of West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute, Ind., spent six years at nearby Indiana State University. He redshirted in 2017 then was in 147 games (115 starts) for the Sycamores from 2018-22. The righty-swinging infielder hit .338 (168-of-497) with 11 home runs, four triples, 11 doubles, 69 runs batted in, 118 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .414. He was named first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference in 2021 and 2022. Mitch Hannahs is Indiana State’s head coach. “He’s an unbelievable motivator,” says Schaffer of Hannahs. “His knowledge of the game is second to none. He knows how to get the most out of his players. “He saw something in me. A lot of hard work later, he got more out of me than I expected. You want to get better not only for him but yourself.” In 2022, Schaffer fielded at a .945 clip and was in on 16 double plays. Liking the way it feels, he wears a standard 11 1/2-inch glove when at shortstop, second base and third base. “I move around,” says Schaffer. “That comes from Coach (Brian) Smiley. No player in his infield group plays one position. That makes you more versatile when you got to other teams, especially summer ball teams. It gives you more chances to play.” This is Schaffer’s fifth go-around with a summer wood bat league and second with the Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex. Tyler Wampler managed Terre Haute to a league championship in 2018. Schaffer played for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash in 2017, the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Michigan Monarchs in 2019, trained the summer of 2020 and was with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Woodchucks (now the Wausau Woodchucks) in 2021. After winding up his long stint at ISU, Schaffer signed a 10-day contract in the MLB Draft League with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters and has played nine games for the Rex, hitting .412 with one homer and six RBIs. “I’m continuing to play,” says Schaffer, 24. “I may or may not get a chance to play professionally.” The 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is July 17-19. Schaffer, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, could be taken in the 20-round selection process, sign with an MLB organization as an undrafted free agent or seek independent ball opportunity. He notes that the MLB Draft League turns into indy ball post-draft and he could go back there. Schaffer graduated from Indiana State in the spring with double bachelor degrees in Accounting and Sport Management. Born in Terre Haute and growing West Terre Haute, Schaffer was in West Terre Haute Little League then a year of Babe Ruth ball. “I was not able to get on any travel organizations,” says Schaffer. Since age 5, he attended camps conducted by varsity coach Steve DeGroote, worked out with the high schoolers during his middle school years and was a freshman the last season DeGroote served as head coach. “I got the privilege from a young age to know fundamentals he instilled in players,” says Schaffer, who earned four baseball letters and helped West Vigo to two sectional and one regional title. “There were some big-time motivational speeches. I’m thankful I got to play one year under him.” He also played and practiced during the summer with teams organized by DeGroote, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017. Culley DeGroote — Steve’s son — took over the West Vigo program and Schaffer played for him his last three prep years. “Culley did a great job of taking it over,” says Schaffer. “He was assistant to Steve. He kept the same fundamentals. “It’s the same program and West Vigo is not somebody you want to run into in postseason play.” Schaffer played for Terre Haute Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 in the summer of 2016. Jordan is the oldest of Brad and Amy Schaffer’s two children. Macy is a nursing student at Ivy Tech Community College. Brad Schaffer is a bidder for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 725. Amy Schaffer is a lawyer’s assistant at McGlone Law in Terre Haute.
Illiana Christian announced its presence on the state baseball scene with authority Friday, June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. In just the second year of IHSAA tournament eligibility and third year since the school moved from Lansing, Ill., to Dyer, Ind., the unranked Vikings topped No. 7 Centerville 10-1 for the Class 2A state title at the State Finals. It is Illiana Christian’s first IHSAA state championship in any sport. Centerville, who first belonged to the IHSAA in 1912, was going for the same distinction. “We stuck together as a team,” said Vikings coach Jeff VanderWoude, who saw his squad get a run batted, hit or run scored in from 10 different players. “It’s a whole team. It’s a family. I’m just so proud of these guys.” Pacing Illiana Christian (22-7) in RBIs was senior Gabe VanRoekel (2), freshman Gavin Meyer (2), junior Kevin Corcoran (1), senior Adam Walters (1) and senior Tyler Barker (1). Six different Vikings had one hit — VanRoekel, Meyer, Corcoran, Walters, senior Ian VanBeek and senior Austin Maslanka. Junior Cody DeJong (3), VanRoekel (2), junior Josh Vis (2), VanBeek (1), Walters (1) and sophomore Isaac VanderWoude (1) scored the runs. “We competed one pitch at a time,” said Jeff VanderWoude. “Win that one pitch. Don’t worry about anything else. We did that.” Corcoran (5-1) went the distance on the mound. The left-hander gave up two hits and one earned run to go with 10 strikeouts and three walks over 98 pitches. Centerville (21-6) scored its run in the top of the first inning and Illiana Christian responded with four in its half of the stanza. “Corcoran was a little nervous,” said VanderWoude. “He settled down.” Said Bulldogs coach Tracey Crull, “This is not the way we wanted to play. But sometimes that happens in baseball. This just wasn’t our night.” The Bulldogs turned an inning-ending double play in the sixth as senior shortstop and L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner Keegan Schlotterbeck gobbled up a grounder and fired to senior first baseman Zach Thompson, retiring runner Maslanka (single) and hitter Meyer. Illiana Christian took an 10-1 lead with four two-out runs in the fourth. VanBeek cracked a one-out single and scored on Corcoran’s two-out single. Courtesy runner Vis (running for Corcoran) scored on an error that allowed DeJong to reach base. VanRoekel singled in DeJong. Barker’s bases-loaded walk forced home VanRoekel. The Vikings scored twice in the third inning for a 6-1 advantage. After putting two runners on against senior right-hander Logan Drook — DeJong (hit by pitch) and VanRoekel (walk), junior righty Jacob Crowe was brought in to pitch for Centerville. Drook (5-1) gave up six runs (two earned) and one hit with four walks over two innings and 54 pitches. Crowe pitched four innings and 76 pitching, giving up five hits, four runs (one) and striking out two and walking three. “(Drook and Crowe) had been amazing all year,” said Crull. “That is very uncharacteristic. We had some control issues early and hit a couple batters. I wasn’t concerned because I knew these kids would keep battling through a 4-1.” Walters got on by fielder’s choice. When Meyer lofted a sacrifce fly deep to right field both DeJong and Walters scored on the play. Illiana Christian went down in order in the bottom of the second as did Centerville in the top of the third. The Vikings turned a double play for the first two outs in the Centerville second. Crowe led off the frame by being plunked by a pitch. He was doubled up when junior Collin Clark hit a line drive to senior second baseman Levi Hescott who flipped to first baseman DeJong. Illiana Christian tallied four runs in the bottom of the first inning for a 4-1 lead. Isaac VanderWoude drew a one-out walk, Corcoran reached on an error and was spelled by courtesy runner Vis and DeJong walked to load the bases VanderWoude scored when VanRoekel was hit by a pitch. Vis scored on a wild pitch. Walters’ groundout plated DeJong. Meyer’s single drove in VanRoekel Centerville went up 1-0 with a run in the top of the first inning. Drook rapped a one-out single, moved to second and third on pitches in the dirt and scored on senior Jamari Pamplin’s two-out triple. The Bulldogs were playing with caps that had “Emma’s Light” emblazoned on the back — a design by senior players. Emma Ulm, a volleyball and basketball player who would have been in the Class of 2022, was killed in a 2020 worksite accident at 16. “(The seniors) wanted to make sure she was recognized throughout the year,” said Crull. “It was critical.”
The 55th IHSAA State Finals for baseball is returning to a Friday-Saturday format with two games each day at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. On Friday, June 17, the Class 2A game pits No. 7-ranked Centerville (21-5) against unranked Illiana Christian (21-7) at 5:30 p.m. ET/4:30 CT. Both teams are making their first State Finals appearance. Centerville has outscored opponents 38-20 in five postseason games. Illiana Christian has a run differential of 62-6 in six games. The 3A game features No. 4 Brebeuf Jesuit (26-4) against No. 1 Andrean (30-4) at 8 ET/7 CT. The Braves have earned one state runner-up finish in 3A (2012), the 59ers seven state titles (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019) and one runner-up (2003). Tournament run differential — Brebeuf 47-5 in six games, Andrean 49-6 in five games. On Saturday, June 18, the 1A title contest is slated for 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 CT and includes vote-getter Tecumseh (19-12) and No. 3 Lafayette Central Catholic (26-6). The Braves won it all in 1A in 2003 while the Knights have carted off the state trophy on seven occasions (2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013). Tournament run differential — Tecumseh 58-15 in six games, Lafayette Central Catholic 62-7 in five games. The 4A championship is slated for 8 ET/7 CT and pits a pair of unranked clubs — Indianapolis Cathedral (18-10-2) against Penn (25-6). The Irish have reigned three times (2001 in 3A, 2007 and 2017 in 4A) with five runner-up finishes (2006, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2018). The Kingsmen have four state crowns to their credit (1994 in the pre-class era, 1998, 2001 and 2015 in 4A) with one runner-up (2017). Tournament run differential — Cathedral 59-27 in five games, Penn 33-12 in six games. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Lafayette Central Catholic’s Tim Bordenet, Penn’s Greg Dikos are all members of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A capsule look at the finalists:
Class 4A Indianapolis Cathedral Top hitters: Jr. Kyuss Gargett (.395 average, 3 home runs, 18 runs batted in, 18 stolen bases), So. Carson Johnson (.389, 20 RBI, 12 SB), So. J.T. Stiner (.364, 2 HR, 30 RBI), Sr. Ben Gomez (.342, 2 HR), So. Patrick Mazur (.341, 21 RBI), 13 SB, Jr. David Ayers (.247, 18 RBI, 16 SB), Sr. Connor Hall (15 SB). Top pitchers: Sr. RHP Ben Gomez (5-1, 36 strikeouts, 15 walks, 3.55 earned run average, 51 1/3 IP), Sr. RHP Dylan Haslett (3-3, 3.58, 56 K’s, 25 walks, 43 IP). Cathedral won the Pike Sectional (Pike 11-1, Lawrence North 10-8), New Palestine Regional (Anderson 14-4, New Palestine 11-7) and Mooresville Semistate (Columbus East 13-7). The Fighting Irish have won a season-best seven in a row. Saturday’s game against Penn recalls the 2017 4A championship game (a 4-3 Cathedral victory). Bishop Chatard bested the Irish in the 2022 city championship game May 10 at Victory Field. Cathedral head coach Ed Freje (Sixth season, 113-32-5) says: “We’ve struggled early and throughout to kind of find our identity on the mound and some pieces that worked offensively for us. We had some bad losses. We had some good wins. It was kind of an up-and-down year … Ben Gomez threw a great game, a complete game (in a 3-2 Senior Night win May 16 against Mooresville). I don’t know if that was a turning point, but I think it definitely gave the guys confidence to beat a good opponent. It was some momentum to build on going into the postseason … We make it a priority (to play a competitive schedule). We definitely want to play and see good teams to see where we’re at early and throughout the season — most importantly to see good pitching and challenge ourselves … We can learn from our wins and learn from our losses and grow through the season … Hopefully — along the way — we’re winning some games. Losing is something we try not to settle in too much in the program … We try to go out and compete everyday to win so you know the losses we took throughout weren’t easy, especially some of the lopsided ones (including 11-1 to Homestead, 17-1 to Center Grove and 18-8 to Franklin Community) … We’ve had games where we’ve had to battle and win in some ugly ways … One of the staples of the program when I was an assistant to Coach (Rich) Andriole was pitching and defense and holding opponents to low-scoring games and that — quite frankly — hasn’t been how we’ve won this year. We’ve been kind of fortunate to find some offense and find our bats here lately … Each team kind of takes its own identity and this isn’t the team from 2017 and it’s not the team from 2018 (which lost 4-3 to Fishers for the 4A title). This team is its own team. I’m proud of the way we’ve stuck together … It’s a special opportunity (to play at Victory Field). We try to tell our players it’s nothing to take for granted … It provides a little bit of reassurance the fact that we’ve been there.”
Penn Top hitters: Zach Hoskins (.412, 1 HR, 14 RBI), Jr. Cam Dombrowski (.409, 21 RBI), Sr. Ben Gregory (.373, 30 RBI), Jr. Adam Lehmann (.366, 20 RBI), Jr. Cooper Hums (.333, 2 HR, 16 RBI), Sr. Zac David (.313, 27 RBI), Jr. Evan Tuesley (.219, 2 HR, 11 RBI). Top pitchers: Sr. RHP Ben Gregory (3-1, 2.07, 37 K’s, 8 walks, 27 IP), Jr. RHP Brayden Schoetzow (10-0, 1.37, 62 K’s, 14 walks, 51 IP), Jr. RHP Adam Lehmann (3-1, 1.64, 49 K’s, 16 walks, 34 IP), So. RHP Joe Trennery (4-2, 3.30, 49 K’s, 18 walks, 36 IP). Penn won the Penn Sectional (Elkhart 7-0, Warsaw 3-1, Northridge 7-5), LaPorte Regional (South Bend Adams 11-0, Lake Central 5-4) and LaPorte Semistate (Zionsville 4-2). The Kingsmen are in the state championship game for the sixth time coming off an 11-game win streak. Penn has won 14 of its last 15. Penn head coach Greg Dikos (35th season, 793-281) says: “I think it’s going to be very good baseball … (Cathedral) is pounding the ball pretty good. That’s one of the things we have to stop. They score a lot of runs. They look to have some team speed … Like we did for Zionsville, we’re going working on holding runners and with our catchers getting rid of he ball. You know, making sure we don’t allow them any free bases … We want them to take a look around and enjoy the atmosphere because this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (for our players). I also want to make sure they understand the responsibility on their shoulders. The community is expecting a ‘W.’ … (Competing for championships) is the culture here at Penn … (Assistant coach Jim Kominkiewicz) has been involved for all six (State Finals) appearances. (Tom Stanton) has been involved since 2002. The kids see that we’re experienced (coaches) and I think that might take a little pressure off as well.”
Class 3A Brebeuf Jesuit Top hitters: Sr. Sam Reed (.444, 2 HR, 22 RBI), Sr. Will Schenkelberg (.426, 2 HR, 32 RBI), Sr. Luke Bauer (.413, 1 HR, 28 RBI, 19 SB), So. Will Loftus (.407, 3 HR, 32 RBI), Jr. Jayden Ohmer (.398, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 21 SB), Sr. Anthony Annee (.320, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 33 SB), Jr. Michael Finelli (.329, 22 RBI), Jr. Alex Cookerly (.241, 22 RBI). Top pitchers: Sr. RHP Andrew Dutkanych (8-0, 106 K’s, 24 walks, 1.02, 48 IP), Sr. LHP Sam Reed (5-0, 1.17, 89 K’s, 15 walks, 54 IP). Brebeuf won the Danville Sectional (Greencastle 10-0, Danville 11-3, Tri-West Hendricks 12-2), Danville Regional (West Vigo 4-0, Beech Grove 8-0) and Jasper Semistate (Silver Creek 2-0). The Braves have won 15 straight. Their last loss was April 30 at Center Grove (9-8). Brebeuf won the Marion County tournament championship May 10 against Lawrence North (13-3) at Victory Field. Brebeuf head coach Jeff Scott (Fourth season at Brebeuf and 12th overall, 131-100-1) says: “We never really talked about the State Finals this year. We had a senior leadership meeting (in the winter and throughout the season). One of the things I talked about was ‘let’s enjoy this ride here and let’s take this thing day-by-day. Let’s go work hard and enjoy each day and see where we get when this thing’s over … This is my last year at Brebeuf. I’ve kept that under my hat. I didn’t want to take away our seniors or our team (Scott, who is in his fourth season leading the Braves, lives in the Center Grove district and makes a long daily commute to Brebeuf and wants to spent more time enjoying his children’s activities) … We knew we compete on that stage and compete with that team (after the loss to Center Grove). I think our mindset changed a little bit … Sam (Reed) gives you a great look on the left side. He really works down and keeps the ball down. Where (Friday’s starter) Andrew (Dutkanych) will rely on the breaking ball a little more, Sam relies on the change-up a little more. That’s probably the noticeable differences between those two pitchers … It’s a huge advantage (having played recently at Victory Field). You know we were there last year. The majority of the team has played on that field the last two years already. When you first play there No. 1 you’re a little awestruck. It’s a beautiful venue and unbelievable backdrop with the city of Indianapolis there. So you have that factor. It’s really big (320 feet down the lines, 418 to left-center, 326 to right-center and 402 to dead center). The foul territories are much bigger and the gaps are much bigger that your normal high school field. Positioning the outfielders is very difficult at Victory Field, especially if you haven’t been there. Communicating is extremely challenging out there for some reason … (Andrean) is going to be well-prepared to go pitch it well and defend it well. I’m certain they’ll have a good game plan to try to attack (Dutkanych) as well — just like Silver Creek did this past weekend.”
Andrean Top hitters: Sr. Jax Kalemba (.460, 5 HR, 38 RBI), Sr. Billy Jones (.435, 1 HR, 9 RBI), Sr. Alonzo Paul (.434, 17 RBI), Sr. Miguel Martinez (.429, 2 HR, 11 RBI), Sr. Peyton Niksch (.425, 2 HR, 33 RBI), Fr. Mason Barth (.406, 1 HR, 43 RBI), Sr. Owen Walkowiak (.395, 18 RBI), Jr. Drayk Bowen (.355, 2 HR, 30 RBI), Jr. Chris Koeppen (.282, 2 HR, 13 RBI). Top pitchers: Sr. RHP Peyton Niksch (10-0, 0.22, 79 K’s, 15 walks, 62 2/3 IP), Sr. RHP Owen Walkowiak (5-2, 1.76, 59 K’s, 17 walks, 47 2/3 IP). Andrean won the Griffith Sectional (Griffith 10-2, Calumet New Tech 18-0), Griffith Regional (South Bend Saint Joseph 5-3, Glenn 4-0) and Kokomo Semistate (New Castle 12-1). The 59ers have won six in a row. The team reeled off 14 straight wins April 14-May 10. Andrean head coach Dave Pishkur (42nd season, 1,070-292) says: “The Penn game (a 4-3 win on April 29) might be the one that told me that we’re good enough to beat some of the really good teams. But we kept on getting better week after week (as the starting lineup from Day 1 evolved through the season as is typical at Andrean) … We went right by Victory Field (on the way came back from Louisville Ballard in late March). Our kids were saying ‘we’ll be there in two months.’ My son and I, we were kind of laughing like there’s no way we’re coming back there if we don’t get markedly better and we did. They prophesied that they were going to be there … This is a very athletic team. We put a premium on baserunning and putting the ball in-play … We’ve seen good pitching this year. The problem is Dukanych might be a step up from good pitching. He might be that elite generational type of talent … We’re fortunate at Andrean that we have a lot of good equipment (including a $14,000 iPitch machine which can deliver 97 mph fastballs, 76 mph breaking pitches and just about everything in-between) … With a good opposition (like Brebeuf) you expect good pitching. You expect good hitting. But, on the other side, they should expect the same out of us and you kind of hope it’s a well-played game.”
Class 2A Centerville Top hitters: Sr. Jamari Pamplin (.429, 6 HR, 28 RBI), Sr. Javontae Pamplin (.423, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 16 SB) , Sr. Keegan Schlotterbeck (.364, 2 HR, 27 RBI), Sr. Logan Drook (.361, 18 RBI), Jr. Jacob Crowe (.357, 1 HR, 26 RBI), Jr. Collin Clark (.338, 2 HR, 18 RBI), So. Kollyn Peed (.333, 1 HR, 9 RBI), Sr. Bryce Robertson (333, 18 RBI), Sr. Zach Thompson (.274, 1 HR, 14 RBI). Top pitchers: Jr. RHP Jacob Crowe (10-3, 2.13, 87 K’s, 14 walks, 62 1/3 IP), Sr. RHP Logan Drook (5-0, 1.30, 66 K’s, 28 walks, 43 IP). Centerville won the Centerville Sectional (Shenandoah 4-2, Hagerstown 14-8), Park Tudor Regional (Cascade 6-3, Heritage Christian 8-2) and Mooresville Semistate (Linton-Stockton 6-5). The Bulldogs have won eight in a row — including the school’s first-ever regional and semistate titles — following a three-game losing skid. The team strung together 11 victories April 20-May 9. Centerville head coach Tracey Crull (10th season, 120-94) says: “It’s absolutely madness. It’s crazy (the excitement in the community) … We have a walk-off (RBI single by Jamari Pamplin against Linton-Stockton to punctuate a two-run seventh) and we’re in the state title game. My phone, email, text messages, all kinds of messages have been blowing. It’s not just the Centerville community. It’s the whole county … We had a really tough week in May where we played our rival Hagerstown twice (in Tri-Eastern Conference Wayne County tournament games). We lost both ball games by a run (2-1 and 3-2 sandwiching a 10-0 loss at Lapel). After that week we had some long conversations as a team. We talked about focus. We talked about accountability. We talked about how we react to adversity. We then went on a run … We’ve had a stretch where we’ve hit the ball really well … It could be (Jacob Crowe or Logan Drook starting on the mound Friday). Logan gave up only one unearned run all year. They are completely different pitchers. Logan (who was the semistate starter) is a little bit harder thrower. He doesn’t give up as many hits. Jake gives up a few more hits, but he’s really good at keeping runners and batters off-balance with his motion and his delivery. It depends on whoever is feeling the best and having the best match-up Friday … Our boys like to see really good pitching (which the Bulldogs have faced in tournament play). I think it will be a good ball game (against Illiana Christian).”
Illiana Christian Top hitters: Jr. Kevin Corcoran (.471, 4 HR, 37 RBI), Sr. Ian VanBeek (.446, 22 RBI), Sr. Adam Walters (.410, 12 RBI), Sr. Tyler Barker (.373, 29 RBI), Jr. Cody DeJong (.351, 2 HR, 22 RBI), So. Isaac VanderWoude (.338, 19 RBI), Sr. Levi Hescott (.300, 12 RBI), Sr. Gabe VanRoekel (.282, 17 RBI). Top pitchers: Jr. LHP Kevin Corcoran (4-1, 2.194, 75 K’s, 13 walks, 44 2/3 IP), Sr. RHP Ian VanBeek (3-2, 1.474, 56 K’s, 6 walks, 38 IP). Illiana Christian won the Whiting Sectional (Bowman Academy 19-0, Hammond Bishop Noll 3-1, Wheeler 16-4), Whiting Regional (Winamac 11-1, Eastside 7-0) and Kokomo Semistate (Wapahani 6-0). The Vikings have won a season-best seven straight games. There was a stretch from April 25 to May 2 where Illiana Christian went 2-4 with two losses to Griffith and one each against Highland and Hanover Central. The team has triumphed in 13 of its last 14. Illiana Christian head coach Jeff VanderWoude (Third season, 40-13) says: “Last year we had a younger team. I thought we were pretty good. Last year we ran into Rex Stills of Wheeler and lost that game 2-1 in the (Whiting) Sectional final … This year our (Bible) verse is James 1:2-3. It’s basically saying consider it pure joy when you hit trials and tribulations because our faith has been strengthened … This team turned around when they started playing for each other and not themselves. Our team does that extremely well, I am 100-percent convinced that’s exactly whey we’re in this position … We try to play the bigger schools (around northwest Indiana) … Kevin Corcoran competes really well. He’s a very athletic kid.”
Class 1A Tecumseh Top hitters: Jr. Conner Anglin (.472, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 13 SB), Jr. Brody Julian (.383, 14 RBI), Jr. Drew Dupont (.341, 2 HR, 27 RBI), Jr. Dax Bailey (.387, 1 HR, 27 RBI), So. D.J. Dupont (.298, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 15 SB), Jr. Chase Jones (.263, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 11 SB), Fr. Mason Gogel (.256, 18 RBI). Top pitchers: Jr. RHP Dax Bailey (5-4, 3.35, 39 K’s, 22 walks, 54 1/3 IP), Jr. RHP Conner Anglin (5-2, 1.13, 28 K’s, 10 walks, 31 IP), Jr. RHP Drew Dupont (5-1, 3.00, 47 K’s, 23 walks, 42 IP). Tecumseh won the Cannelton Sectional (Northeast Dubois 9-8, Wood Memorial 11-2, Springs Valley 11-0), Loogootee Regional (New Washington 11-1, Barr-Reeve 4-1) and Jasper Semistate (Shakamak 12-3). The Braves have won a season-high nine straight games. The team, which has no seniors and four freshmen in the starting lineup, started out 1-4 and entered May 6-9. Of the 12 losses, seven are by two runs or fewer. Tecumseh head coach Ted Thompson (Fifth season, 77-44) says: “We started out struggling a little bit. Our four freshmen (Mason Gogel, Wyatt Huddleston, Braydon Long and Thomas Pemberton) were just learning how to play it at the varsity level. I thought by the time we were going to do tournament we were going to be in good shape as far as being able to compete at a high level … About the month of May everything started to click … Everything just really started to work well with our four freshmen and our juniors provided great leadership … We’ve made one — maybe two errors — in the last three weeks. It’s been really good defensively and we’ve just really played well … We try to load up our schedule (with 4A and 3A schools including Evansville North and Gibson Southern) to try to be competitive. We try to do everything we can to provide an atmosphere for our guys to improve … The first two weeks of the season we only pitch our pitches for 35 to 40 pitches. The second two weeks, which ends April, we don’t even get our pitchers above 60 pitches (with freshmen pitching often in relief) … For our young guys to really get some innings is going to be valuable for us not only this year, but next year as well … (The State Finals) is a brand new environment for everyone. They’ve never faced it before. We feel like we do a great job of preparing our guys for big moments. We put a lot of pressure on them in practice. We really drill them on a lot of different situations … We’ll definitely be focused on the Tecumseh Braves. We have a great philosophy and I believe we have a great system. We’ll try to give the kids an idea of what to expect. Lafayette Central Catholic is going to be a formidable opponent. We know they’re going to come at us with a lot of different variations of the game. I can tell you our players will be prepared for those moments. It’s all about execution.”
Lafayette Central Catholic Top hitters: Jr. Evan Dienhart (.462, 18 RBI), Jr. Owen Munn (.366, 1HR, 23 RBI), Jr. Ryan Schummer (.354, 2 HR, 26 RBI), So. Kayden Minnich (.270, 21 RBI), Sr. Justin Brady (.250, 1 HR, 21 RBI). Top pitchers: Jr. RHP Ben Mazur (8-1, 0.63, 96 K’s, 19 walks, 55 1/3 IP), So. RHP Brinn Robbins (8-1, 0.95, 61 K’s, 15 walks, 59 IP). Central Catholic won the Lafayette Central Sectional (Attica 13-1, Riverton Parke 8-0, Covington 10-0), Lafayette Central Regional (Union City 12-2, Rossville 10-0) and LaPorte Semistate (South Central of Union Mills 9-4 in 8 innings). The Knights have won a season-best 13 straight after a two-game losing streak. The team’s other setbacks came between April 1 and May 4. Knights head coach Tim Bordenet (27th season, 634-203) says: “We were kind of up-and-down until our (Hoosier) Conference championship against Western (a 6-1 victory on May 13 against University of Louisville pitching recruit Mitchell Dean). I think that was really the turning point. We had two games that week and were not playing that well. (Beating Western) proved to our guys that when we play the way we’re capable of we can compete and beat anybody … You’ve got to be able to get in a lot of hitters’ counts and put pressure on the opposing pitcher and opposing defense. Saturday (in the regional against South Central) we only had one hit for seven innings, but we did draw a lot of walks and hit by pitches and so we had a lot of traffic on the bases. I thought our approach at the plate was really good … We know we play a tough schedule and intentionally put ourselves in some adverse situations where we have to come back or hold on to a late lead in a close ballgame. Undoubtedly those situations have helped us here in the (state) tournament … We brought (junior right-hander) Evan Dienhart in (to pitch) with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh in a tie game … He got a strikeout and fly out to get out of that inning … Our outfielders have to have good angles at balls in the gaps (at spacious Victory Field) and not let balls get past them. Fortunately for us, our outfield (senior Carter Johnson in left, Brinn Robbins in center and sophomore Kayden Minnich in right) is probably the strength of our team and has really good speed … Our kids are pretty savvy. The moments haven’t been too big for them to this point.”
Illiana Christian was plenty successful on the baseball diamond when the high school was in Lansing, Ill. As recently as 2004 — with Dave Beezhold as head coach — the Vikings qualified for the Illinois state tournament and went 27-8. In 2018, Illiana Christian relocated from Lansing, where it was founded in 1945, to an incorporated area of Dyer, Ind. In 2020-21, it became a full Indiana High School Athletic Association member. The 2022 Vikings won the program’s first IHSAA sectional and regional titles and are one win away from the State Finals. In earning a date opposite No. 3-ranked Wapahani (24-4) in the 2A Kokomo Semistate at noon Central Time Saturday, June 11, Illiana Christian won the Whiting Sectional (Bowman Academy 19-0, Hammond Bishop Noll 3-1 and Wheeler 16-4) and Whiting Regional (Winamac 11-1 and Eastside 7-0). Alum and former Beezhold assistant Jeff VanderWoude’s first year leading the Vikings was 2019-20 — the season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Illiana Christian went 19-6 and lost 2-1 to Wheeler in the 2A Whiting Sectional championship game. VanderWoude sees the closeness of the players and a willingness to put others before themselves has been a formula for success. “We’ve been getting them to buy in and loving each other,” says VanderWoude. “We don’t have a ‘me’ person. “We are controlling the controllable. “They play as one really well. In the game against Eastside, we were competing one pitch at a time.” Emphasizing the mental side, VanderWoude has seen his players adjust when there is a temporary lack of focus. Illiana Christian (enrollment around 480) joined the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting) in 2021. With the addition of the Vikings, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Illiana Christian is paired with Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll and Hanover Central. The 2022 Vikings went 8-3 in the GSSC, finishing behind Hanover Central (10-1) and tying Griffith (8-3). Through 24 games, Illiana Christian was led offensively by junior pitcher Kevin Corcoran (.468 average, four home runs, 34 runs batted in, 11 stolen bases), senior center fielder Ivan VanBeek (.421, 18 RBI, 22 SB), senior second baseman Levi Hescott (.368), senior left fielder Tyler Barker (.339, 27 RBI), the coach’s son — sophomore shortstop Isaac VanderWoude (.333, 15 RBI, 19 SB) and junior first baseman Cody DeJong (.329, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 11 SB). The bulk of the pitching has been handled by left-hander Corcoran (3-1, 2.29 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 13 walks 39 2/3 innings), right-hander VanBeek (2-2, 1.58, 44 K’s, four walks, 31 IP) and senior lefty Austin Maslanka (3-0, 2.10, 34 K’s, 10 walks, 20 IP). Assistant coaches are Shane Zegarac, Dale Meyer, Kevin Corcoran, Caleb Jonkman, Greg Gierling and Bo Hofstra. “We are where we are because of those guys,” says VanderWoude. “They are salt of the earth people.” Zegarac pitched for Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., Eastern Kentucky University and in the Texas Rangers system plus independent ball. Corcoran is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. Illiana Christian alum Meyer played at Southern Illinois University. Hofstra pitched for Illiana Christian and Purdue University. Jonkman, who has been National Wiffle@Ball Player of the Year more than once, and Gierling are also IC grads.
Others with Illiana Christian connections are grad Fletcher Bandstra at Calvin College (Grand Rapids), Carter Doorn (from IC to Lake Central to Purdue University) and former Vikings player D.J. Gladney (Chicago White Sox organization). The Vikings have on-campus diamond which is tended to by coaches and Dave Vermuelen (the father of former player Chris Vermuelen). “It’s a nice field,” says VanderWoude. “In Illinois, we used limestone. We have a fairway mower and put designs in the field. It gets constant water and treatment. “We’re taking pride in what we have.” After graduating from Illiana Christian in 1997, outfielder Jeff VanderWoude played for Cobras head coach Rod Lovett at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and then for Tigers head coach Beauford Sanders at Campellsville (Ky.) University. VanderWoude was on the Parkland coaching staff of Dave Seifert, who went on to be an assistant then head coach at the University of Evansville. As a Philadelphia Phillies regional cross-checker, he had VanderWoude working for him for about a decade. VanderWoude, runs Perm-A-Seal — an asphalt maintenance business in Lynwood, Ill. — with father Keith. Jeff and wife Jori have four children. Besides Isaac (16), there’s Lydia (15), Mya (13) and Hayvn (9). Lydia VanderWoude played varsity softball as an Illiana Christian freshman in 2022. Mya VanderWoude is heading into the eighth grade and Havyn VanderWoude fourth grade.
Gunnar Pullins sees his future as an event coordinator. Graduated May 7 from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., with a Marketing degree, Pullins has job possibilities all around. “I’m open to going anywhere in the country,” says Pullins, 22. But right now the young man who has planned cornhole tournaments for festivals around northwest Indiana is getting ready for a baseball event. A senior first baseman for the ONU baseball team, Pullins and his teammates recently won the program’s third straight Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament title (not counting the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season) and earned a berth in the NAIA Opening Round. “We want to be as far from home as possible,” says Pullins. On Thursday, Pullins got his wish as the Tigers learned that they will play at the site hosted by Westmont in Santa Barbara, Calif., for the right to compete in the 2022 NAIA World Series May 27-June 3 in Lewiston, Idaho. In the Opening Round, Westmont is the No. 1 seed, Indiana University Southeast No. 2, Olivet Nazarene No. 3 and Antelope Valley (Calif.) No 4. The event is May 16-19. Pullins, a righty swinger, is hitting .358 (53-of-148) with three home runs, three triples, six doubles, 35 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. In 51 games, he sports a .955 OPS (.455 on-base percentage plus .500 slugging average) and has 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts. This is his first season at first base and even though he has another year of eligibility it’s his last as a collegiate player. “My shoulder can only take so much more,” says Pullins. “I tore my shoulder senior year of high school. “I went went from throwing hard to throwing very soft.” He was a shortstop at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School, where he graduated in 2018. He played a lot of third base at Olivet Nazarene until he came to a decision with Tigers head coach Jeff Mullikin to move to the other corner to save his arm. A teammate had done the same in 2021 and did very well. From 2019-21, Pullins got into 80 games for ONU and hit .258 (25-of-97) with no homers, one triple, three doubles, 24 RBIs and 45 runs. He had a .652 OPS (.342/.309) and was 15-of-22 in the stolen base department. In a game of adjustments, Pullins has learned to make his share. Not only changing positions. But he has learned to adjust at-bat to at-bat and pitch to pitch. Olivet Nazarene has not faced a pitcher with velocity approaching 90 mph in awhile and is sure to see it in the Opening Round. “It’s about getting the foot down and the hands through the (strike) zone at a certain time,” says Pullins, who is preparing with batting practice against live arms and machines. “We do a 40/90 with one of our BP throwers 40 feet away and he’s chucking it and trying to find barrels.” Velocity is one thing and then there is adjustment when the ball breaks. “There are people who throw the ball straight and there are people who have movement,” says Pullins. “It’s easier to get a barrel on it and hit it hard somewhere when it’s straight.” Born and raised in Valparaiso, Pullins played travel ball with the Lake of the Four Seasons Warriors from Crown Point/Boone Grove area then the Cougars who became the Indiana Breakers around Chesterton then the Outsiders Baseball Club with Dave Griffin (the Purdue Northwest head coach). A varsity player for three of his four years at Valparaiso, Pullins recalls the beginning of practice with Vikings head coach Todd Evans. “He called us gentlemen everyday,” says Pullins of Evans. “It was a respectful way to start off our days.” Pullins played basketball as a Valpo freshman and tennis as a junior. Once he committed to Olivet Nazarene, he spent much of his time honing his baseball skills. Why ONU? “They gave me the best opportunity to get the education I wanted,” says Pullins. “And an opportunity to play right away as a freshman.” That first season, Pullins got a few starts and plenty of pinch-hit opportunities. “I could not get into a rhythm the COVID year,” says Pullins. “As a junior, I struggled confidence-wise.” Over the summer, he played slow pitch men’s softball. “I was putting a barrel on the ball,” says Pullins. “Something switched (in baseball). It was a click.” It hasn’t been all baseball and academics for Pullins, He’s been dating the same girl for most of his time in college. “I’ve met a lot of people and played intramural (sports) prior to senior year,” says Pullins. “They have a lot of events here — like every other week.” At the beginning of the year, there’s “Ollies Follies” — games and events with classes competing against each other. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Pullins. Gunnar is the son of Bub Pullins and Samantha Cardwell. He has two sisters. Alex is older. Lyric is younger.
Robbie Coursel has learned a few things on his baseball journey and he’s sharing those lessons with others. Born in Michigan City, Ind., Coursel is a right-handed pitcher who has played at the college and professional levels. Through his business – Robbie Coursel Baseball — he provides instruction and helps players go after their goals. Coursel played three baseball seasons at Michigan City High School for Wolves head coach David Ortiz and campaigns for football head coach Craig Buzea and finished his diamond prep career at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating in 2012. His head coach with the Vikings was Rob Stanifer, who pitched for the 1997-98 Florida Marlins and 2000 Boston Red Sox. In October of his senior year, Coursel was given the opportunity to move to Florida with longtime scout and roving instructor Ralph Bufano, who has worked with Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and many others. “He saw that I had a strong arm and was a good athlete and that I had the chance to play pro ball,” says Coursel of Bufano. “He changed the trajectory of my whole life. “Getting into player development has given me a greater reach than playing alone. I’m able to serve others. As a player I can entertain others and profit myself like Ralph impacted myself. “They carve a path for themselves using baseball as a vehicle. (Helping others is) where my passion is. The more I’m able to learn from my abilities, the more I’m able to teach. I love what I do.” Moving away from loved ones at 17 was not easy. “I did not know anybody, but I met people through the game,” says Coursel, who is now 27 (he turns 28 in December). “It was definitely challenging. But they had courage to let me go.” Coursel impressed enough at Northeast High to land a scholarship with St. Petersburg College and played two seasons for the Clearwater-based Titans, head coach Ryan Beckman and pitching coach T.J. Large, who hurled in the Red Sox and is now in player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “(SPC) has such a history of producing professional players,” says Coursel, who lived with Bufano during his first year in Florida. After his junior college experience, Coursel moved on to NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. John McCormack was — and still is — the Owls head coach. Pitching coach Jason Jackson is now at the University of Alabama. “I loved playing for him,” says Coursel of McCormack. “I still stay in-touch with him to this day.” During Coursel’s time there, FAU was ranked as high as No. 8 in the country and had six players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft both seasons. Coursel was taken in the 26th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and went to the Appalachian League that summer followed by fall instructional league where he got to compete with players from all levels. The righty spent two seasons in the Pirates system then signed with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and pitched for a team he rooted for when he was young. He was with the Greg Tagert-managed club 2018, 2019 and 2021. There was no AA season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Coursel was released by the RailCats in July, he is hopeful to earn a chance to toe the rubber for Gary in 2022 and — perhaps — make his way back to an MLB organization. He has nothing but praise for longtime baseball man Tagert. “He is very intelligent, very hard-working, very professional,” says Coursel. “He knows what it takes to win. He believes in his methods to accomplishing that. I’m behind him 100 percent. “I respect that wisdom and Baseball I.Q.” Coursel addresses what he perceives as the differences between indy and affiliated pro ball. “The players are more refined in the American Association,” says Coursel. “Most of these guys are fully-developed. They’re more experienced. “But it’s ‘perform now.’ They want to win. “(Affiliated ball) has raw talent and younger players and is very developmental-based.” Both brands of baseball seek folks who bring more than just ball-playing abilities. “They have players who are so valuable that they want good people around them — high-character individuals. That alone — along with ability — can get you a career in independent ball. “Ability is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not the main thing we focus on (at Robbie Coursel Baseball). It’s championship mentality in everything you apply yourself to. You can be successful in whatever they put their mind to.” Coursel conducts his lessons at various locations around northwest Indiana. A training facility with indoor and outdoor areas is in the works. He has several places around the country to see what he wants for his place. He is also looking for instructors with hitting, pitching and strength training knowledge to add to his staff. Robbie and high school sweetheart were married a little over a year ago in Florida and welcomed daughter Layla into the world Oct. 28.
Just six seasons after playing his last baseball season at Tippecanoe Valley High School new Akron and Mentone in Indiana, Jarred Littlejohn became the Vikings head coach for 2021 after two years as junior varsity coach on Greg Prater’s staff. As he prepares for 2022, the former four-year outfielder tells what is important to him while leading the Valley program. “Our biggest thing is to make sure the kids are loose and having fun,” says Littlejohn. “If they’re tight, they’re not going to perform. “On offense, we want to be aggressive and get the pitch we’re looking for. On every pitch, we have an approach. We know we’re not going to be perfect.” And then there’s the moundsmen. “Pitching last year was the best part of our game,” says Littlejohn. “We knew what was working and stayed with it. Work ahead and don’t get behind in the count. “We had a good defense behind us. (Pitchers) knew we could make the plays in the field.” Littlejohn played for three coaches in high school — Ryan Moore his freshmen year, Brandon Cody as a sophomore and junior and Justin Brannock as a senior. “There has not been much stability in the baseball program,” says Littlejohn. “We’re going to try to bring that back.” Assisting Littlejohn, a machinist at Craig Welding & Manufacturing in Mentone, is Anthony Newcomer and Mike Bowers. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period opened Aug. 30 and closes Oct. 16. Littlejohn has been conducting open fields and weightlifting program that has consistently had six to 12 participants. Tippecanoe Valley (enrollment around 570) has many baseball players involved in fall sports. In 2021, there were 26 players taking part in varsity and JV games. The varsity went 12-12. The Vikings are a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with along with Maconaquah, Manchester, North Miami, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Wabash and Whitko). Last season, Valley was part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Wawasee and West Noble.The Vikings have won five sectional titles — the last in 2012. Tippecanoe Valley is fed by youth leagues in Akron and Mentone. Those organizations are a part of Town & Country Baseball of Indiana. Tanner Andrews, who is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization, is a 2014 graduate who was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Purdue University. Littlejohn says right-hander Owen Kirchenstien (Class of 2022) is expected to commit to junior college baseball.