By STEVE KRAH
Blake Malatestnic’s prep baseball ended with a flourish.
The right-handed pitcher helped Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter to the 2017 IHSAA Class 2A state championship by hurling a complete game in a 10-4 win against Wapahani.
Malatestnic went seven innings and threw 95 pitches while yielding nine hits and four runs (three earned), striking out four and walking one.
He finished the season at 12-1 and was also named as the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient.
But at 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, he received just one college baseball offer.
That came from Eastern Illinois University.
“Eastern was my only school,” says Malatestnic, 23. “They saw something in a 5-foot-9, 150-pound kid. I was a small kid, but I had quick arm and I competed. (EIU head coach Jason Anderson) took a chance on me.
“It’s something I’m forever thankful for.”
More than five years later — including a pandemic and a major medical procedure — Malatestnic is preparing for one last go-round with the Panthers in 2023.
Now up to a solid 175, Malatestic can look back on three competitive seasons so far. He pitched in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. The 2021 season was lost when he needed Tommy John (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) surgery.
In 55 games (35 in relief), the righty is 10-11 with four saves, 149 strikeouts and 72 walks in 169 innings.
During the 2022 season, he appeared in 16 games (10 starts) and was 4-4 with 6.09 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and 21 walks in 54 2/3 innings.
Malatestnic went to the summer collegiate wood-bat Northwoods League’s Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish and pitched in 13 games and 20 1/3 innings before reaching his limit of combined frames for the spring and summer.
“The surgeon and (Anderson) wanted me at about 75 (total innings),” says Malatestnic, who hurt himself doing velocity training just days before he was going to the Coastal Plains League to pitch for the Wilson High-Tobs in 2020 following a COVID-19-shortened EIU season in which he went 3-0 in four games (three in relief) with a 1.69 ERA, 23 strikeouts and six walks in 26 2/3 innings.
A 32-week rehab program began in October 2020 and concluded in April 2021.
“It was a roller coaster of feelings and situations,” says Malatestnic. “But I knew I could do it.”
The pitcher was with the 2021 Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks (Mequon, Wis.). He made seven rehab starts capped at about 65 pitches each. He worked 24 innings with 29 strikeouts and seven walks.
“Lakeshore was fantastic,” says Malatestnic. “They saw the long-term goal of why I was there in the first place.
“(Chinooks manager Travis Akre) was a great communicator with the whole process.”
Malatestnic pitched for the Prospect League‘s Danville (Ill.) Dans in the summers of 2018 and 2019
Over the years, Malatestnic’s relationship with Anderson has also grown.
“He has a real open office,” says Malatestnic. “He behind me on Tommy John and did what he could with the school being shut down and all this COVID compliance stuff.”
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Malatestnic uses a four-seam fastball (clocked as high as 94 mph when he was coming out of the bullpen at the end of the 2022 spring slate).
He also uses a slider and change-up and — this summer — developed a two-seam sinker.
“On the days when the slider’s sharp it has more of a cutter action,” says Malatestnic. “It moves more right to left without a ton of depth. I feel comfortable throwing it a lot. It plays off my fastball.
“My change-up goes down and to the arm-side. There are so many good hitters in the Ohio Valley Conference to get fastballs by them.”
Malatestnic credits Kenosha pitching coach Steve Andrade, who pitched in the majors and counts Indiana Tech among his coaching stops, for aiding him.
“He had me using classical mechanics and posture and staying over the rubber,” says Malatestic. “Those helped me finish my pitches with the right grip and a quick arm.”
Born in Indianapolis, Malatestnic grew up in Avon, Ind. He played T-ball through junior league at Ben Davis Little League. He was on a team that won district and went to the state tournament at 12.
He played travel ball from 13U to 15U with the Indy Predators — coached by his father (Dave Malatestnic) and Terrance Davis.
Going into his junior year of high school (16U), he was with the Indy Raiders. The next summer it was the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro.
Malatestnic dressed for selected varsity games as a Ritter freshman and and even made his first start as a shortstop against Indianapolis Cathedral. He was a varsity player his last three seasons. He was three-time all-Indiana Crossroads Conference, two-time all-city, all-city Player of the Year (2017), Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District L Player of the Year (2017), IHSBCA All-State and a North/South All-Star Series participant (2017) and a MaxPreps Small School All-American honoree (2017). He went a combined 15-5 on the mound his sophomore and junior seasons while helping Ritter to sectional titles.
“Coach (Dave) Scott gave me tests and little benchmarks and I passed those,” says Malatestnic. “He really had an attention to detail which was a really good foundation for success.
“He was a hard-nosed kind of guy. We were a pretty scrappy bunch.”
While there were not many future college players on the team, the 2017 Raiders hustled.
“We would run hard, put down bunts and were not afraid of being down two strikes,” says Malatestnic. “We were aggressively calm.”
Malatestnic still stays in-contact with Scott and makes it a point to look him up when he’s home from school.
“You see a lot of guys go back to Ritter after the fact,” says Malatestnic. “That says a lot about Coach Scott. He invested a lot into his players and gave them a lot of life advice or baseball advice.”
Malatestnic earned a degree in Elementary Education last winter then entered graduate school for Curriculum and Instruction.
He is taking one online class this summer and plans to finish up next spring.
Though he started out college on a Biology path, Malatestnic explains why he opted to pursue an education degree.
“I started thinking about all the teachers I had growing up,” says Malatestnic. “Then I had to decide on what level I wanted to teach.”
His senior year at Ritter he was a cadet teacher at St. Christopher School in Speedway with his fourth grade teacher, Miss Elizabeth Anderson.
“It was a crazy amount of fun,” says Malatestnic. “I really enjoyed it.”
Malatestnic did his student teaching the spring of 2021 while he was also rehabbing from his Tommy John.
He is grateful for the time put in my graduate assistant athletic trainer Maria Garcia (now Assistant Director of Sports Medicine at Eastern Kentucky University). The graduate of Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, Ind., and Purdue University often met him early in the morning before he began his student-teaching day.
Blake is the son of Dave (Karen) and Noelle Malatestnic. Dave Malatestnic works in IT at Hopebridge Autism Center. Noelle Malatestnic is an interior designed for Flaherty & Collins Properties.
Blake’s siblings are Brenna Malatestnic (25), Jarek Malatestnic (21), Maddie Griffith (21) and Mary Griffith (19). Former Marian University soccer player Brenna lives in Indy. Jarek is a former track athlete at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.