Three Northwest Indiana baseball teams will vie Saturday for a berth in the state finals.
The fact that 27-year old Pat Antone has ties to all of them — Boone Grove, Andrean and Chesterton — seems like quite a coincidence.
As far as the first-year Wolves coach is concerned, not so much.
"It's cool to see, but it's not by chance," Antone said. "Skills, knowledge, dedication, preparation and hard work have gotten us to this point."
As a player and a coach, Antone's had the fortune to learn from two of the best. Andrean's Dave Pishkur and Chesterton's Jack Campbell have won over 1,700 games between them in a combined 88 years of coaching.
"I wouldn't be here without them and all the people who have affected my career," Antone said.
As a student at St. Patrick's in Chesterton, Antone wanted to attend Chesterton High School with his friends, but his mom, who works at the church, insisted he go to a Catholic school, so he wound up at Andrean. After his sophomore year, his dad was laid off, putting the private school's tuition beyond their means, and Antone returned to Chesterton, where he finished high school.
"If the finances had been there, I would have stayed (at Andrean)," Antone said. "But I'm happy I was able to finish where I did, the relationships I made, the friends, teachers and coaches. That was a great class to be a part of."
While attending Valparaiso University, Antone contacted Pishkur about joining his staff in some capacity and spent the 2012-13 seasons there.
"I learned a lot from Dave," Antone said. "I can't thank him enough, how much helped me out."
Following a year at Valparaiso High as a student teacher/assistant coach, he returned to Chesterton in 2015 while teaching at St. Pat's. Antone learned on the fly that season, when he, classmate John Thanos and fellow Trojans baseball alum Jordan Peterson ran the team as Campbell recovered from hip replacement surgery and couldn't be on the field. Chesterton won the sectional that year.
"That was a lot of fun, coaching with my best friends," Antone said. "It was a great group of guys and we had a really good year."
In 2016, Antone was back at Andrean, where he spent the last two seasons, facing Chesterton in the sectional each year, losing once and winning once, prior to taking the Boone job.
"The loss in '16 hurt real bad," he said. "It made last year that much better. That was the best game I've been a part of as a coach or player, up to this point."
When Antone went to Boone, he took some of Andrean with him. His pitching coach is another former 59er, Joey Plesac, whose dad Joe is Andrean's pitching coach.
"It's funny," Pishkur said. "I always tell him we never won anything when you were here. We won it back-to-back after he left, as a player and a coach."
Which stands to reason then that Andrean would win it again next week. Kidding aside, Pishkur, looking back, could see the coaching qualities in Antone that are coming through now.
"He's very passionate, very positive," Pishkur said. "He was all about learning. He was always asking questions, taking notes. He wanted to be a head coach, simple as that. We were able to get him in with the Oilmen and Team Indiana. He's taken a lot of the ideas from here and assimilated them at Boone Grove as I'm sure he has with Chesterton, too."
Campbell, likewise, recognized Antone's love of the game.
"He's a baseball guy, a baseball junkie, and I'm sure that's figured in his success," Campbell said.
For Antone, his stints at both schools were beneficial, albeit in different ways.
"They have very different styles," he said of Pishkur and Campbell. "With Dave, it's the idea of never being satisfied, always striving for excellence in everything you do. If there's something small that didn't get done, he'd let you know. The little things add up.
"With Jack, it's how he keeps you loose as a player, not taking things too seriously. Baseball's a game of failure and how you handle it determines your success."
Antone's Wolves play at noon Saturday at Plymouth in a Class 2A semistate game, followed by Chesterton in 4A. Andrean, which plays in 3A, has the second game at Kokomo, so Antone and Pishkur will have to catch up later, as they did Sunday following regionals.
"We talk pretty frequently," Antone said.
Will Pishkur make yet another trip? Can Campbell break through in his 48th year? Can Antone accomplish the feat as a rookie?
"I know kids on both teams, coaches," Antone said. "Since we don't play each other, it would be great to see all three of us represent Northwest Indiana in the state finals."