Calumet Christian School is unbeaten in its first 17 games of the 2022 high school baseball season. The team made up of students from the tiny private school in Griffith, Ind., plus homeschoolers and online students could wind up playing 40 or more games — on either side of the Indiana-Illinois line – this spring. “We continue to try to schedule as many public schools as possible to compete with,” says head coach Bill DeRuiter. Not a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the Patriots are not restricted to a maximum number of contests. According to DeRuiter, there are less than 200 students in grades K-12 with between 30 and 40 in the upper four classes. DeRuiter has been head boys basketball coach at Calumet Christian (formerly Calumet Baptist) the past two winters and took over the baseball program this season and has some expectations for his 12 varsity players (there is also a junior varsity squad of about 16). “What’s really important for us is that you understand your role on the team,” says DeRuiter. “We can’t have 12 players that want to be the star. “You strive to have a better role, more playing time, more responsibility. We talk about being all-in — do it for your team, for yourself as an individual and for your faith.” Senior Jordan Landkrom is hitting a robust .604 (32-of-53) with three home runs, four triples, four doubles, 31 runs batted in and 31 runs scored. Sophomore Carter Tymm sports a .469 average, 31 RBIs and 26 runs. Sophomore Isaiah Palanca is batting .463 with 14 RBIs and 36 runs. There’s also sophomores Jared McKinney (.429), Zack Murphy (.394) and Drew Ruf (.333), junior Kadyn Foutz (.385) and senior Riley Thomas (.333). The combined earned run average of the pitching staff is 0.88 with 156 strikeouts in 95 innings. Thomas, Tymm and junior Ethan Duensing are all 4-0 on the mound while Murphy and Palanca are 2-0. DeRuiter’s squad plays an attacking brand of offensive baseball. “We want to challenge teams to have to make perfect throws and perfect plays,” says DeRuiter. “I’m willing to take chances and be aggressive. We want to take advantage of mistakes. It’s more fun that way.” Of the squad’s 167 hits so far, 47 are for extra bases. Playing in cold and windy conditions for many of their early games, the Patriots make the most of infield singles and bloopers. Calumet Christian plays most of its games on the road. The Patriots’ “home” field is at Schererville Baseball Complex in Crown Point, Ind. Led in scoring by Jordan Landkron, Calumet Christian’s boys basketball team went 22-10 and won a Christian school state championship in 2021-22, beating Heritage Christian (Dyer), Victory Christian (Valparaiso), Calvary Christian (Indianapolis) and Pleasant View Christian (Montgomery) in the playoff run. There is no equivalent postseason event for baseball. “We try to do cool experiences,” says DeRuiter of a slate that includes contests at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind., Oil City Stadium in Whiting, Ind., Ozinga Field in Crestview, Ill., and Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet, Ill. Those facilities are home to the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Northwest Indiana Oilmen, Windy City Thunderbolts and Joliet Slammers. DeRuiter’s coaching staff features Adam Lankrohn (father of shortstop Jordan), Joe Palanca (father of center fielder Isaiah) and Jeff Duensing (father of first baseman Ethan). The husband of Calumet Christian athletic director Jen Landkrohn, Adam handles scheduling and other details for the team. “He’s the person that makes everything go,” says DeRuiter, who also teaches seventh/eighth grade Social Studies at Crown Point Christian. Before coaching at Calumet Christian, DeRuiter was head women’s basketball coach at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., for five years. The 2005 graduate of Chicago Christian High School, where he played four seasons of football, basketball and baseball, earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Middle Grade Social Sciences from Trinity Christian and a master’s degree in Athletic Administration & Coaching from Concordia University Irvine. DeRuiter calls his high school basketball coach, Ross Douma, his top coaching mentor. “He’s been a great sounding board for me,” says DeRuiter of Douma. “He helped guide me through some tough choices as I was learning the business.” Head junior varsity baseball coach at Chicago Christian was DeRuiter’s first coaching job. He has also served as head boys basketball coach at Evergreen Park (Ill.) Community High School. Bill and Nichole DeRuiter have been married for 11 years and have three children — Trey (9), Charlotte (7) and Jameson (4).
Jeff Enright sees baseball as more than just physical. There’s what goes on between the ears, too. “Baseball is kind of a unique sport,” says Enright, the head coach at Wheeler (Ind.) High School since the summer of 2019. “There’s so much thought that goes into every position and every pitch. “There’s the mental approach and how to overcome short-term adversity.” Players will face a bad call by the umpire or have a sure hit robbed by a great catch, but they must move forward or it becomes a negative. “That’s what I enjoy most about coaching baseball,” says Enright. “You try to put them in healthy stressful situations as much as you can during the off-season. “You make them uncomfortable and failing and then you build them back up.” Enright equates mental training with mental health. “These kids are 14 to 18,” says Enright. “They are still growing emotionally. Their highs are too high and lows too low.” The coach goes for even-keel. “We say you’re never as bad or as good as you think you are,” says Enright. “We talk about it all the time.” For every four practices on the baseball field, the Bearcats are in the class room going over the last few practices or games. Enright likes to do this debriefing on a rainy day. Wheeling won the program’s sixth sectional title in 2021. While right-handed pitcher Rex Stills (9-1, 1.37 earned run average, 100 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings) and infielder Sean Conroy have moved on — Stills to Purdue Fort Wayne and Conroy to Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif. Returnees for 2022 include senior outfielder Nehemiah Parrish, senior catcher/outfielder Dylan Passauer, senior corner infielder/right-hander Kole Hutcheson, junior shortstop Kris Kingery, junior right-hander/outifleder Mason Leckrone, sophomore utility man Mark Johnson, sophomore right-hander Lucas McNamara and sophomore third baseman/designated hitter Jackson Smith. Parrish, who plans to enter the U.S. Marines after graduation, hit .414 with 30 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases in 2021. Passauer has committed to the University of Northwestern Ohio. Kingery is expected to be the Bearcats’ lead-off hitter. Leckrone and Hutcheson are likely the team’s top two starting pitchers. Johnson (.317, 13 RBI) and Smith (.355, 19 RBI) are coming off solid offensive seasons. Of the 21 players in the program, most are juniors and sophomores. “For a (Class) 2A school we’re pretty deep this year,” says Enright. Wheeler (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with baseball members Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison, River Forest and Whiting). With the addition of Illiana Christian, the conference is broken into divisions with teams playing two games with their division and one against squads in the other division. Wheeler is paired with Calumet New Tech, Lake Station Edision, River Forest and Whiting. The Bearcats do not have a conference JV schedule but has scheduled JV games on days when the varsity does not play. “I want to get the young guys some reps,” says Enright. Wheeler is part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Hammond Bishop Noll, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Whiting (host). Enright’s varsity assistant is Joe Kennedy, who was a player for Enright at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. Enright was an assistant for the 2013 Class 4A Illinois state champions. JV coaches are Union Township Middle School teacher Sean Cunningham and Alex Hutman (Wheeler Class of 2021). Wheeler is due to get new baseball and softball fields with turf. First up is the turfing of the football field. The diamonds will be located on the other end of the property from their current locations. “It may not be pure baseball in the traditional sense, but as soon as it stops raining you can play,” says Enright of playing on turf. “In our area of the country it’s tough to get a baseball season in in the spring.” Wheeler is small incorporated Valparaiso community. The feeder system for the baseball program include Union Township Little League (T-ball through Senior League for middle schoolers). Enright estimates that around 75 percent of players are with travel organizations, including Triple Crown Valparaiso, 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs and Cangelosi Sparks (Lockport, Ill.). Some also play American Legion ball for Post 502 Blaze coached by Bob Wineland. An alum of Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Ill. (1995), Enright with a double major in History and Political Science from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1999. He went to Chicago-Kent College of Law and practiced product liability law at Schiff Hardin LLC in Chicago. It was while clerking for a judge during law school that he got the idea that he might one day want to go into education. He teaches History and U.S. Government at Wheeler. Before landing with the Bearcats, Enright was head coach at Calumet Tech. The 11 years prior to that was spent at Mount Carmel. He moved up from freshmen coach to sophomore coach and varsity assistant while working with Caravan head coach Brian Hurry. “I learned most about coaching from him,” says Enright of Hurry. “The biggest thing was how to have a personal relationship with each kid to try to maximize their potential.” A member of the Chicago Catholic League, Mount Carmel players are recruited while in middle school. “We get to know them in sixth and seventh grade as you’re trying to entice them to come to your school,” says Enright. “You hope you know how they tick.” During his time at Mount Carmel, the baseball community rallied over a series of tragedies. Complications of a heart defect took Steven “Stevie” M. Bajenski in 2009 (the first Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Baseball Tournament was played in 2012). The Caravan also lost a coach to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and another player passed on July 4. “It brought everybody closer together,” says Enright. “Everybody was reeling.” Jeff and wife Kerry have three children in the Union Township School Corporation — junior Emily (16), eighth grader Sarah (14) and sixth grader Jack (11).
Hammond (Ind.) Central High School’s first baseball season in 2022 will come under the leadership of head coach Michael Caston. The 1998 Hammond High graduate has set a path for the Wolves. “We have a philosophy we’re going to follow,” says Caston. “You have to learn and buy into the philosophy to be successful.” Caston, who was head coach at Hammond Gavit following stints as a Calumet College of St. Joseph assistant and assistant then head coach at Chicago State University, breaks his philosophy into offense, defense, pitching and base running. “Early in the count we’re looking to drive fastballs in the strike zone,” says Caston of his hitting theory. “I believe in ‘back spin’ baseball.’ The ball travels father and we hit it into the gaps. “We want to get front foot down early to create base. As the front foot gets down, you load your hands and transfer your weight to explode on the ball. We keep the barrel of the bat up and take the shortest path to the ball. That creates your launch angle.” Knowing that there is a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in high school, Caston expects an attack mentality. “If you have a good fastball, throw fastballs early in the county,” says Caston. “We we’re not going to waste any pitches. Why throw curveballs when nobody has hit your fastball yet? “We like to pound the zone with fastballs early.” With a dozen juniors and seniors and a mix of right-handers and left-handers in a group of 26 players (varsity and junior varsity), Caston expects them to carry the load for the Wolves and that includes on the mound. “Defensively, it’s very simple,” says Caston. “If you can catch it and throw it, you’re going to be very successful.” He has been teaching his players backhand and glove-side techniques as well as situational defense. He wants his defenders to know what to do with the ball when it’s put in-play and practice reflects that. “In the game it becomes natural to them,” says Caston. “In our system everyone knows they have a job on every play.” Caston wants his Wolves to play a “very exciting brand of baseball” and that includes aggressiveness on the base paths. “I like to advance runners various ways,” says Caston. “We don’t move runners by bunting. I pride myself in having players reading balls in the dirt before they even hit the dirt. We like to utilize fake bunt-and-steal. “We’re very aggressive on the base paths on hits to the outfield. We want to force the (opposing defense) to make a clean play.” Caston has been pleased at his player’s eagerness to learn. “It’s a total change for most of the kids I’m coaching,” says Caston. “They’re amazed at all the new things they’ve been learning. They’ve learned to change their old habits to the new philosophy. “They’re catching on pretty quickly.” Hammond Central assistant coaches are Albert Carpen and Erick Chavarria at the varsity level and Michael Korba with the JV. All three are graduates of Hammond Clark High School. Carpen played for Caston at Chicago State and Chavarria at MacMurray College. Carpen was among the top hitters in NCAA Division I in 2012 when he posted an average of .426 and on-base percentage of .522. Hammond High was razed to make way for the new Hammond Central and Clark was also closed, leaving the School City of Hammond with two high schools — Central and Morton. In 2022, Hammond Central will play baseball home games at Gavit. A new field is planned on the Central campus. Hammond Central’s first college baseball commit is Anthony Huber to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill. Most Hammond Gavit players landed at Morton. Among those getting collegiate looks is Ryan Peppers. The feeder system includes Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth, Hammond Optimist Youth Sports and Hessville Little League plus various travel ball organizations. Hammond Central (enrollment around 1,950) is a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side and Hammond Morton). Each GLAC team meets twice. The Wolves are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland (2022 host), Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. Among opponents not in the GLAC or sectional are Bowman Academy, Calumet Christian, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Hammond Bishop Noll, River Forest and Whiting. Caston, a middle infielder growing up, played three seasons for George Malis and his senior year for Greg O’Donnell at Hammond High. He was a pitcher at Valparaiso (Ind.) University for head coach Paul Twenge. “I was a young kid on a veteran team,” says Caston of his freshmen season at Hammond. “Coach Malis said ‘go out there and do your thing and focus on hitting the ball up the middle.’ I took those words to hear and executed what he told me.” In his first year of college, famed pitching coach Tom House came in for a week and Caston adopted some of House’s ideas about mechanics. Caston teaches Integrated Chemistry and Physics in his first year at Morton. He taught at Gavit for four. Michael has been married to Tina Caston for five years and has three stepsons — Nathan (20), William (13) and Lukas (12). William plays football and baseball, Lukas soccer and baseball.
As part of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan’s coaching staff at Munster High School, Mike Mikolajczyk saw the importance of keeping the sport fun for players. “You’ve got to be loose,” says Mikolacjzyk, who enters his 24th year in the program and first as head coach in 2022. Only IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Niksic and Shinkan have held that title before Mikolajczyk, who was Mustangs freshmen coach for 20 seasons and varsity assistant for three. He is a 1989 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, Ill., where he played four years of baseball for Braves coach Tom Johnson and earned all-conference and all-area honors as a junior and senior and was a team captain. He spent a half year with the baseball team at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Teaching from Purdue University Calumet and a master’s degree in Arts and Language Arts from Governors State University. Mikolajczyk (Mick-O-Lie-Check) teaches sixth grade Reading and Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster. In 2021, the Mustangs were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central and Merrillville (host). Munster won its 13th sectional title — the first since 2016. “We have 11 guys coming back from last year’s team,” says Mikolajczyk. “We will be pretty senior strong.” The Class of 2022 includes right-hander Brady Ginaven (Indiana State University commit), left-hander Jake Thometz (uncommitted) and right-hander Will Moell (Johns Hopkins University commit) at the top of the mound rotation. “I’m pretty excited about our top three pitchers,” says Mikolajczyk. “I could put those guys against anybody in northwest Indiana and we’ll be competitive.” Another key senior is outfielder/first baseman Tyler Lukowski. Juniors drawing D-I attention are outfielder Kozy Denham and outfielder/shortstop Kevin Hall. Recent graduates moving on to college ball include 2020 graduates in right-hander Costa Sirounis (Indiana University), right-hander Will Melby (Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs) and infielder Ronnie Nowak (Marshalltown, Iowa, Community College). From 2021, there’s right-hander/third baseman and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Bryce Schaum (Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.), second baseman/catcher Ben Greiner (DePauw University) and middle infielder/outfielder Derrick Wiening (Purdue Northwest). Munster (enrollment around 1,600) is located in Lake County and a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell). The Mustangs plan to field three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen — in 2022 — and Mikolajczyk estimates there will be 45 to 50 in the program. The first time Munster had paid assistants was four years ago. Mikolajczyk’s assistants include Matt Backs, volunteers Brian Boliek and Adam Musielak with the varsity, Mark Dye with the JV and an as-yet-to-be-named freshmen coach. Backs, who coached one year at Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., and 27 years as Munster JV coach, will handle infielders and outfielders and coach first base. The Illinois State University graduate is a Project Lead The Way teacher at Wilbur Wright. Boilek, who enters his fifth year on the staff who has more than two decades experience of coaching travel and American Legion ball, is a bench coach and handles strength and conditioning. He works in banking and finance. Musielak was head coach for six years at Whiting (Ind.) High School and took the Oilers to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2019. He has 10 years of coaching experience for baseball, basketball and football. The Indiana University alum teaches Physical Education at Munster. Dye is a Munster graduate who played at Earlham College In Richmond, Ind., and served a freshmen coach at Portage (Ind.) High School for six years. He teaches Social Studies at Munster. Infielders and catchers will be part of Mikolajczyk’s responsbilities. Munster had 10 IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in September and early October with nearly 60 participants (not involved in fall sports). There were open fields and gyms with activity on Mike Niksic Field (which has a turf infield and grass outfielder), diamonds at Community Park, located next to the school and the home to Munster Little League and Munster Babe Ruth or the turfed football field. “In fall workouts, we get an idea of who’s really dedicated to you and who’s not,” says Mikolajczyk. An off-season weight program is baseball-specific and is geared toward flexibility and mobility. “What we’re trying to emphasize is bigger, faster, stronger,” says Mikolajczyk. “We’re not trying to bulk up. It’s about maintenance and an injury-prevention type of thing.” For the first time in program history, a 500-pound club (total for bench press, clean and jerk and deadlift) has been established to promote bonding and buy-in. Just before break, all 13 who attempted to qualify for a club made it and got a T-shirt. Qualifying is planned again in January and February. Mikolajczyk says strength and conditioning training has drawn 30 to 35 participants each time without freshmen. Little League (T-ball to age 12) and Babe Ruth (13-15) feed players to Munster High School. Several players are in travel ball with Morris Baseball, which is run by alum Bobby Morris. Hal Morris, Bobby’s brother, is a Munster graduate who made it to the big leagues primarily as a first baseman (1988-2000) and is also in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. More recently, outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University (2014-17) and is now in the Chicago White Sox organization. The Manous brothers — right-hander Connor (Class of 2016) and outfielder Garrett (Class of 2019 — were both on the IU roster in 2021. An avid golfer, Mikolajczyk is a 7-handicap on the links. He also enjoys hunting. He lives in Frankfort, Ill., with significant other Maribel Soto Piccinini. She has a son named Troy (26). Tanya Mikolajczyk, who was married to Mike, died of colon cancer in 2019.
Trent Howard has been a high school assistant or travel baseball coach for about a decade. He assisted at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso, Ind., in 2021 and was with Portage (Ind.) High School during the 2020 season that did not happen because of COVID-19. Howard, 32, has also coached in the Morris Baseball organization with teams from 13U to 18U. He will take those experiences and that of playing for the Hammond (Ind.) Seminoles, Hammond Chiefs (now 5 Star Great Lakes), Hammond Clark High School, Central Michigan University and in the Baltimore Orioles organization to use them as the new head coach at Hobart (Ind.) High School. He was hired in August to lead the Brickies. “I was very fortunate to have coaches that had several different philosophies that handled players in different ways,” says Howard, a 2021 Hammond Sports Hall of Fame inductee who played for Dave Sutkowski with the Chiefs, Gary Ridgely and Pat Montalbano at Clark and head coach Steve Jaksa and pitching coach Jeff Opalewski at Central Michigan and later served with Jeff Enright at Wheeler and Bob Dixon at Portage. “I saw how they developed a culture and I’ll take take bits and pieces from each of them.” The first IHSAA Limited Contact Period in the fall saw Howard stressing fundamentals with his Brickies. “We went back to the basics,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we’re laying a solid foundation for these kids.” With winter workouts that recently began, it’s more of the same along knocking off the rust for players who have not swung the bat in awhile. “We want to develop a hitting philosophy and go to the plate with a game plan,” says Howard. “We want to understand what the pitcher is trying to do.” A former left-handed pitcher himself, Howard allowed his pitchers to rest their arms during the fall and the dead period that followed. “We wanted to take the time for our arms to fully recover (from spring and summer baseball),” says Howard. “Now it’s about building up arm strength.” Howard says bullpens will not begin until January. “Then the keys will be consistency and throwing strikes,” says Howard. “We want them hitting spots and moving the ball around.” Hobart (enrollment around 1,290) is a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Kankakee Valley, Lowell and Munster). NCC teams play home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays with a new opponent for five straight weeks. “We’re fortunate to be in a tough conference,” says Howard. “We play a pretty tough non-conference, too.” Among those foes are Boone Grove, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hammond Morton, Hanover Central, Illiana Christian, Lake Central, Merrillville, Michigan City, New Prairie, Portage, Valparaiso, Washington Township, Westville, Wheeler and Whiting. In 2021, the Brickies were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Portage and Valparaiso. Hobart has won six sectional titles — the last in 2014. Howard’s coaching staff includes brother Trevor Howard (Clark Class of 2002), Scott Trcka (who was a pro scout for 27 years) and longtime Brickies assistant Bob Wineland with the varsity and Kyle Jenkins and Zak Pizer with the junior varsity. Hobart plays its home game on-campus. The diamond’s mound was re-built and the infield was re-leveled in the fall. Feeding and aiding the high school program are Hobart Little League, Hobart Baseball Club Storm, Hobart American Legion Post 502 Blaze and 5 Star Great Lakes Chiefs. “Kids are everywhere,” says Howard. “We make sure they are with good coaches and in a situation where they’re comfortable.” Jaden Deel (Hobart Class of 2021) is now on the baseball team at Huntington (Ind.) University. Ivan Balboa (Class of 2022) has signed to play at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne. Howard says he sees college potential is other Brickies. Howard is a School Resource Officer at Portage. Trent and wife of seven years Alexandria live in Portage with sons Eli (5) and Ezekiel (2).
Calumet College of St. Joseph — a private four-year Catholic institution with about 380 undergraduates in Whiting, Ind., embraces a close-knit community. “It’s a family-oriented school and we have a family-oriented team,” says Brian Nowakowski, head baseball coach for the Crimson Wave since the fall of 2012. “We do everything together (including community service, meals and study tables). We don’t single out a single player for any misdoing. “When someone hurts we all hurt.” When Brian and Jeannine Nowakowski’s son, Bryce, required two open heart surgeries in the first year of his young life and then a heart transplant at 2, the CCSJ family rallied with support. Part of the cost of tickets to the Midwest Collegiate League (now rebranded as the Northern League) All-Star Game held at the Crimson Wave’s home park — Oil City Stadium — were given to the Nowakowski family. When Bryce was prepared for, underwent and recovered from his July 30, 2014 transplant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the school allowed the head coach to stay there while his assistants — younger brother Scott Nowakowski and Juan Alonso — led the CCSJ baseball team. “The school let me work from home and I never skipped a beat,” says Nowakowski, whose son is now 9. “I could never re-pay them back.” With Bryce’s medical condition and his mother recovering after beating cancer, Nowakowski decided it was best not to travel much during a 2021 season effected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “If I had COIVD I would not be able to go home,” says Nowakowski, who resides with his wife of 11 years and child in Dyer, Ind. The 2021 Crimson Wave only played games in the NAIA-affiliated Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. “Competing in the CCAC is hard,” says Nowakowski. “We’re fighting for same kids in recruiting. All the teams are very competitive.” Olivet Nazarene University finished atop the ’21 conference standings. One feather in the Crimson Wave’s cap is Oil City Stadium, located on 119th Street in downtown Whiting with a unique oil refinery backdrop in the outfield. “It’s a great stadium,” says Nowakowski. “The City of Whiting does a great job keeping it up. It helps in recruiting.” Eight Calumet of St. Joseph players — Michael Biegel, Julian Espino, Kevin McCune, Thomas Montes, Cody Plebanski, Shaun Quinn, Glenford Wagner and Luke Woodward — made the 2021 CCAC all-academic team. A typical mix, the current Crimson Waves roster consists mostly of players from Chicagoland and the Calumet Region with some international students. “We find the best players we can,” says Nowakowki. “If you want to be a part of the school we’re going to take you. “We have affordable tuition. There’s no in-state, out-of-state or intentional. It’s all the same.” Located on New York Avenue in Whiting, CCSJ has an agreement with The Illiana, located across the street. In Oct. 1, the school broke ground on its first residence hall. In 2022, CCSJ is to open the season Feb. 25 at Hannibal (Mo.)-LaGrange. The following weekend the Crimson Wave plays a series at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga. From there CCSJ goes to Lake Wales, Fla., to play in the Warner University Invitational and other games, including at Southeastern. CCSJ finished outdoor fall practice about two weeks ago. The Crimson Wave did drill work four days a week and competed in intrasquad games on the fifth day. Right now, players are at the Rittenmeyer Center four days a week conditioning with weightlifting and stability exercises. Besides Scott Nowakowski (in his seventh year at Calumet College of St. Joseph), the coaching staff also features Nick Relli, Nestor Carillo and Rocco Mossuto. Elli played for Nowakowski at CCSJ. Carillo (Morton Community College in Cicero, Ill.) and Rocco Mossuto (Saint Xavier University in Chicago) are both former head coaches. Nowakowski grew up on Chicago’s East Side and graduated in 1997 from St. Francis de Sales High School, a member of the vaunted Chicago Catholic League. “It’s tough competition,” says Nowakowki. “There’s no easy games in the Chicago Catholic League.” Nowakowski played for Pioneers head coach Al Lodl and was good enough as a right-handed pitcher to sign a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1997 and reported to spring training in 1998. He pitched in the minors that year and 1999 and then was employed in private sector jobs. But the diamond beckoned. “I’ve been a baseball guy most of my life,” says Nowakowski. “I missed the game.” Nowakowski got into coaching as an assistant to Pat Montalbano at Hammond Clark High School and was a Crimson Waves assistant to Tony Myszak for one year before becoming head coach. A few years into the job, Nowakowski earned an Organizational Management degree from CCSJ.
Tim Misliwy has a plan as he guides baseball at Whiting (Ind.) High School. “My main point of emphasis of the program is to focus on player development,” says Misliwy, who led the Oilers for the first time in 2021 after serving as an assistant on the staff of Adam Musielak. “I believe my job is to try to get the best out of every player. We focus a lot on drill work and skill development to try to help every player improve. “I want to put my players in the best position to continue playing baseball at whatever level they want.” Recent Whiting graduates Nicholas Semancik (Class of 2020) and Austin Crocker (Class of 2021) are on the baseball roster at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting. Whiting (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Bishop Noll Institute, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills and Wheeler). Hanover Central was the IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up in 2021. Also in 2021, Whiting was part of a Class 2A sectional grouping with Bishop Noll Institute, Bowman Leadership Academy, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Wheeler. The Oilers have won four sectional titles — the last in 2019 (when they advanced to semistate before losing to eventual state champion Alexandria-Monroe). “We have some big goals at Whiting,” says Misliwy. “We have goals of getting back (to semistate) and beyond that. “We still have a few players from that (2019) team who are seniors now and they got a taste of that success and would like to recreate (in 2022). “We were a very young program last year, which was my first season, and this year I’m hoping the guys develop and mature into a very successful team.” Misliwy’s 2021 assistants were Steven Taylor and James Martinez and he hopes they will return in 2022. The Oilers share a ballpark with Calumet College and the summer collegiate Northwest Indiana Oilmen. “I love getting to play at Oil City Stadium,” says Misliwy of the diamond on 119th Street and very near Lake Michigan. “It’s a great facility and we are very lucky to get to call that our home field. A lot of teams want to schedule games with us mainly to come play at our park. The crew that takes care of the field does a great job making sure it is in great condition every year. “I honestly think it’s one of the nicest home parks in the state of Indiana and we are obviously very proud to call it home.” Oil City Stadium was host to the 2016 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ends Oct. 16. With many players in football and other fall sports, Whiting did not have baseball activities this fall. While the Oilers don’t have any official feeder systems, players tend to come from area leagues (including Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth) and travel ball organizations. Misliwy is in his 13th year of teaching — all at the high school level. He instructs Advanced Placement Stats, AP Calculus, Pre-Calculus and Business Math at Whiting. He formerly taught math and coached baseball and bowling at Bishop Noll Institute. A 2002 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where played baseball for Caravan coach Brian Hurry, Misliwy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree as a Mathematics/Business Administration double major at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., a Secondary Education degree from Calumet College and a masters in Sports Administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher. Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings. “It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.” That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season. After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen. “That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.” He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman. “He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer. “Confidence is the best tool.” Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10. Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider. “It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody. “I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.” The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind. “He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.” In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing. Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more. As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski. “They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate. Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles. Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University). Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach. “Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome. “We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”
There’s a place where a baseball can be pitched and struck in Indiana and land in Illinois.
That place is Hermits Park in the 4200 block of Dearborn Avenue on the north side of Hammond, Ind.
In the spring of 2021, the big diamond — where a home run to left field or deep center can clear the state line which cuts through the outfield — will be home to the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) baseball program. The school’s softball team will also play at Hermits.
“We started a partnership last year then COVID hit and everything stopped,” says Hensley. “We were one of the last (youth baseball/softball) associations to fold. We were down to only our high school level team that traveled.”
In the fall, Hermits Outlaws played in a fall league at the Ho Chunk Sports Complex in Lynwood, Ill., which is 12 miles southwest of Hermits Park.
Hensley, who is assisted by Travis McKimmey and Ryan Massey, held his last HAST baseball call-out meeting March 11 and has had 10 coming to conditioning sessions. There is hope that more will joint the team. The first IHSAA practice is Monday, March 15.
“We have a real fresh batch,” says Hensley, noting there a a few players who’ve played high school baseball with others who have been away for years or are fairly new to the sport.
“We’ll start with new or younger guys,” says Hensley. “But we gladly accept that challenge.
“There might be more of a level playing field since everybody did not play last year.”
While the focus this spring will be on a varsity team, Hensley says he hopes to bring baseball to middle schoolers — at HAST and the surrounding area — through the partnership with Hermits.
The IHSAA announced this week that Washington Township will be sectional host.
HAST’s first appearance in the state tournament series was in 2017. The Hawks have not won a sectional championship.
While changes continue to be made to the schedule, Hensley says he expects his club to have around 20 regular-season games.
HAST, which was established in 2010, is a charter school focused on both science and technology with a heavy emphasis on a small teacher-to-student ratio. It is both a high school and middle school with grades ranging from 6-12.
Not affiliated with HAST, School City of Hammond currently has four high schools — Hammond, Clark, Gavit and Morton — and will cut down to two.
The district is scheduled in 2021-22 to have Hammond and Clark combine into the new Hammond Central with current Gavit students being divided between Hammond Central and Morton.
“It’s always sad to see a part of someone’s history go,” says Hensley, a 1988 Clark graduate. “But we’re looking for change and something new.”
Dennis and Gail Hensley have been married for 26 years. The couple has two adult children — Taylor (25) and Dennis (20).
Those questions were answered as IHSAA Executive Committee minutes from Feb. 19 were released March 8.
According to the IHSAA website, Assistant Commissioner Robert Faulkens reported on the general format, sites and other preliminary plans for the 2020-21 Baseball Tournament Series.
Faulkens was notified by the Indianapolis Indians that their schedule is now set by Major League Baseball rather than the International League and has the team set for home games on the dates of this year’s IHSAA State Finals. The plan now will be to play this year’s state championship games on the following Monday and Tuesday (June 21-22).
The first IHSAA practice date is March 15. The first contest date is March 29.
Sectionals Class 4A 1. Merrillville (6): East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville, Munster. 2. Chesterton (7): Andrean, Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Lowell, Portage, Valparaiso. 3. Plymouth (6): LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth, South Bend Adams, South Bend Riley. 4. Northridge (6): Concord, Elkhart, Goshen, Northridge, Penn, Warsaw Community. 5. Carroll (Fort Wayne) (5): Carroll (Fort Wayne), DeKalb, East Noble, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider
6. Huntington North (6): Columbia City, Fort Wayne North Side, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead, Huntington North. 7. Lafayette Jefferson (5): Harrison (West Lafayette), Kokomo, Lafayette Jefferson, Logansport, McCutcheon. 8. Westfield (6): Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, Zionsville. 9. Pendleton Heights (6): Anderson, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights, Richmond.
10. Ben Davis (7): Ben Davis, Indianapolis Arsenal Technical, Indianapolis Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central (Indianapolis), Pike 11. Warren Central (6): Franklin Central, New Palestine, Perry Meridian, , Roncalli, Southport, Warren Central. 12. Plainfield (6): Avon, Brownsburg, Decatur Central, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo, Terre Haute South Vigo. 13. Mooresville (6): Center Grove, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Whiteland Community. 14. Bloomington North (6): Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North, East Central, Shelbyville. 15. New Albany (6): Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, New Albany, Seymour. 16. Evansville F.J. Reitz (6): Castle, Evansville Central, Evansville F.J. Reitz, Evansville Harrison, Evansville North, Jasper.
Class 3A 17. Griffith (6): Calumet, Gary West Side, Griffith, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit. 18. Kankakee Valley (6): Culver Academies, Glenn, Hanover Central, Kankakee Valley, Knox, River Forest. 19. South Bend Clay (5): Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend Clay, South Bend Saint Joseph, South Bend Washington. 20. Northwestern (7): Benton Central, Maconaquah, Northwestern, Peru, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette, Western.
21. Wawasee (6): Jimtown, Lakeland, NorthWood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wawasee, West Noble. 22. Garrett (7): Angola, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Garrett, Leo, New Haven. 23. Bellmont (6): Bellmont, Heritage, Marion, Mississinewa, Norwell, Oak Hill. 24. Yorktown (6): Delta, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Jay County, New Castle, Yorktown. 25. North Montgomery (6): Crawfordsville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Northview, South Vermillion.
26. Brebeuf Jesuit (5): Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory, Danville Community, Greencastle, Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, Tri-West Hendricks. 27. Beech Grove (5): Beech Grove, Herron, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard, Indianapolis Emmerich Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge. 28. Owen Valley (6): Brown County, Edgewood, Indian Creek, Owen Valley, Sullivan, West Vigo. 29. Lawrenceburg (7): Batesville, Connersville, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville Consolidated, South Dearborn. 30. Silver Creek (8): Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg, Silver Creek. 31. Southridge (6): Gibson Southern, Pike Central, Princeton Community, Southridge, Vincennes Lincoln, Washington
Class 2A 33. Whiting (6): Bowman Leadership Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Hammond Bishop Noll, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler, Whiting.
34. Hebron (6): Boone Grove, Hebron, North Judson-San Pierre, North Newton, Rensselaer Central, Winamac Community. 35. Westview (6): Bremen, Central Noble, Fairfield, LaVille, Prairie Heights, Westview. 36. Eastside (6): Adams Central, Bluffton, Churubusco, Eastside, South Adams, Woodlan. 37. Wabash (6): Carroll (Flora), Lewis Cass, Manchester, Rochester Community, Wabash, Whitko. 38. Delphi (6): Clinton Prairie, Delphi Community, Fountain Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Seeger, Western Boone. 39. Eastern (Greentown) (6): Blackford, Eastbrook, Eastern (Greentown), Madison-Grant, Taylor, Tipton. 40. Lapel (8): Alexandria Monroe, Elwood Community, Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris, Wapahani, Winchester Community. 41. Centerville (5): Centerville, Hagerstown, Northeastern, Shenandoah, Union County. 42. Heritage Christian (6): Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Triton Central. 43. Cascade (6): Cascade, Covenant Christian (Indpls), Monrovia, Park Tudor, Speedway, University. 44. Southmont (5): Cloverdale, North Putnam, Parke Heritage, South Putnam, Southmont. 45. South Ripley (6): Milan, North Decatur, South Decatur, South Ripley, Southwestern (Hanover), Switzerland County. 46. Eastern (Pekin) (6): Austin, Clarksville, Crawford County, Eastern (Pekin), Henryville, Providence.
47. Mitchell (6): Eastern Greene, Linton-Stockton, Mitchell, North Knox, Paoli, South Knox. 48. Tell City (6): Evansville Mater Dei, Forest Park, North Posey, Perry Central, South Spencer, Tell City.
Class 1A 49. Washington Township (8): 21st Century Charter-Gary, Covenant Christian (DeMotte), Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Kouts, Marquette Catholic, Morgan Township, Washington Township, Westville.
50. LaCrosse (7): Argos, Culver Community, LaCrosse, Oregon-Davis, South Bend Career Academy, South Central (Union Mills), Triton. 51. Fremont (7): Bethany Christian, Elkhart Christian Academy, Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fremont, Hamilton, Lakewood Park Christian 52. Caston (7): Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Pioneer, Southwood, West Central. 53. Riverton Parke (5): Attica, Covington, Faith Christian, North Vermillion, Riverton Parke. 54. Frontier (6): Clinton Central, Frontier, Rossville, Sheridan, South Newton, Tri-County. 55. Liberty Christian (7): Anderson Preparatory Academy, Cowan, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central, Wes-Del. 56. Seton Catholic (6): Blue River Valley, Cambridge City Lincoln, Randolph Southern, Seton Catholic, Tri, Union City. 57. White River Valley (6): Bloomfield, Clay City, Eminence, North Central (Farmersburg), Shakamak, White River Valley 58. Bethesda Christian (6): Bethesda Christian, Indiana School for the Deaf, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian. 59. Morristown (6): Edinburgh, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Morristown, Southwestern (Shelbyville), Waldron. 60. Jac-Cen-Del (6): Hauser, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun, Trinity Lutheran. 61. South Central (Elizabeth) (5): Borden, Christian Academy of Indiana, Lanesville, Orleans, South Central (Elizabeth). 62. West Washington (4): Crothersville, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, West Washington. 63. North Daviess (5): Barr-Reeve, Loogootee, North Daviess, Shoals, Vincennes Rivet. 64. Northeast Dubois (5): Cannelton, Northeast Dubois, Springs Valley, Tecumseh, Wood Memorial.
1. LaPorte Feeder Sectionals: Chesterton, LaPorte, Merrillville, Northridge. 2. Kokomo Feeder Sectionals: DeKalb, Huntington North, Lafayette Jefferson, Westfield. 3. Plainfield Feeder Sectionals: Ben Davis Pendleton Heights, Terre Haute South Vigo, Warren Central. 4. Jasper Feeder Sectionals: Bloomington North, Evansville F.J. Reitz, Jennings County, Mooresville.
5. Griffith Feeder Sectionals: Griffith, Kankakee Valley, South Bend Clay, Northwestern. 6. Bellmont Feeder Sectionals: Wawasee, Garrett, Bellmont, Yorktown. 7. Danville Feeder Sectionals: Beech Grove, Brebeuf Jesuit, North Montgomery, Owen Valley. 8. Southridge Feeder Sectionals: Evansville Bosse, Lawrenceburg, Silver Creek, Southridge.
10. Lafayette Central Catholic Feeder Sectionals: Delphi, Eastern (Greentown), Lapel, Wabash. 11. Park Tudor/Cascade Feeder Sectionals: Cascade, Centerville, Heritage Christian, Southmont. 12. Evansville Mater Dei (Bosse Field) Feeder Sectionals: Eastern (Pekin), Mitchell, South Ripley, Tell City.
13. South Bend Washington Feeder Sectionals: Caston, Fremont, LaCrosse, Washington Township. 14. Carroll (Flora) Feeder Sectionals: Frontier, Liberty Christian, Riverton Parke, Seton Catholic. 15. Morristown Feeder Sectionals: Bethesda Christian, Jac-Cen-Del, Morristown, White River Valley. 16. Lanesville Feeder Sectionals: North Daviess, Northeast Dubois, South Central (Elizabeth), West Washington.
1. LaPorte 2. Kokomo 3. Mooresville
Victory Field (Indianapolis), 501 W. Maryland Street, Indianapolis The eight (8) winning teams of the semi-state tourneys shall constitute the participants in the state tourney.