Hillary Smith – NWI Times

MERRILLVILLE — Dave Pishkur and the Andrean coaching staff stared at their opening day roster looking for a star.

The Niners baseball team lost four players to transfer in the offseason, including three pitchers, and their normal rate of graduates. Then Kevin McCune’s arm was lost on the mound to a shoulder injury.

That left sophomore Mike Doolin as the starting ace.

Clay Thompson, who had never pitched in a varsity game, was brought in from the outfield and taught to pitch.

Seniors Billy Johnson and Sawyer Allen were given a ton of innings, and both turned their fortunes into college scholarships (Johnson to Wabash College and Allen to Hillsdale).

Andrean, a school of 475 students this season, was in its second year of Class 4A postseason play, having its 14-year sectional championship streak broken last season by Chesterton.

“The kids started the season with three goals: win conference, win 25 games, and they were very specific on the last one, win the sectional beating Chesterton,” Pishkur said.

When the sectional draw put Chesterton and Andrean on opposite sides of the bracket, the Niners had a shot at their last goal.

Andrean’s 25th victory was in the sectional championship, a 4-3 late-inning win over the host Trojans.

Andrean is the first Region baseball team to be bumped up to the highest classification since the start of the success factor points in 2013. The 59ers are also the first IHSAA baseball team with success factor points to win a Class 4A sectional title.

With an 8-1 Northwest Crossroads Conference record, a sectional title and an appearance in the regional final, Pishkur is named the Times’ Baseball Coach of the Year.

“We had the most fun this year competing in a sectional, by far, since class baseball started,” Pishkur said. “Wow, you look at the size of some of the schools we played against, Portage has between 2,000 and 3,000 kids, Valparaiso has 2,000 kids, Chesterton has 2,000 kids, and we have 475.”

Next year, the Niners baseball team will drop to Class 3A while the remaining sports are in Class 2A.

This season, Pishkur and his staff found heroes in the places it needed to.

Doolin finished with an 8-0 record and 1.60 ERA. Thompson, who was new to pitching, was 6-1 with a 2.76 ERA.

“We had no idea how good Doolin could be,” Pishkur said. “Thankfully he was very good. … Billy and Sawyer were seniors, we just told them ‘it’s your turn, it’s your ball.'”

The hitters also utilized a HitTrax hitting machine system that helped hitters attack pitches and adjust their bat speed. The Niners responded with 23 home runs, including five from Nick Fushi and four each from McCune and Thompson. In its 2014 and 2015 state championship seasons, Andrean totaled nine home runs.

“They were doing everything they could to find a way to win,” Pishkur said. “We went through periods where we wondered if it was possible (to win). We’ve had much better years without the success in the tournament. For us to get as far as we did having an overall mediocre year is a testament to the players and the assistant coaches.”