Tied in the bottom of the seventh with De La Salle (Ill.) in the Do It Stevie's Way Tournament semifinals, Andrean needed a spark. Coach Dave Pishkur provided it.
The 59ers faced a bases-loaded jam in one of their biggest games of the season. Junior Tyler Nelson, one of Andrean's best pitchers, was on the mound with one out. If Andrean didn't get a ground ball or strikeout, it would almost certainly be eliminated from one of the Midwest's premier tournaments.
Pishkur's answer? Bring center fielder Mikey Jarek in for a five-man infield. Jarek posted up in between the pitcher's mound and third-base line in what junior catcher Jake Mullen described as an unusual alignment designed to take away the suicide squeeze.
One strikeout and one ground ball later, Andrean had survived. The 59ers went on to win the tournament, ultimately staking their claim as the Midwest's top team after a Class 3A state championship and 36-1 record. For his role in the historic season, Pishkur is The Times' Coach of the Year.
“That's one thing about D.P.: He's not scared to take a chance,” Andrean senior pitcher Michael Doolin said. “He's not scared to try anything. That's another thing that makes him so special: He's not scared to fail.”
Pishkur has built a statewide powerhouse over his 40 seasons that sustains its own dominance. Sophomore third baseman Charlie Jones said he chose Andrean over Illinois power Mount Carmel after Doolin raved about Pishkur's coaching.
Even at age 66, Pishkur is as technologically oriented as any Region coach. Andrean uses electronic systems like Hittrax and K-Vest for offseason training and introduced a state-of-the-art pitching simulator this season.
With decades of experience and more success than any coach in Indiana baseball history, Pishkur could easily stick to the traditional techniques he used early in his career.
Instead, he always looks for an edge. Often, that includes reaching out to coaches and trainers to learn more about their methods.
“He's never happy with where he's at, whether that be now or if he's on the golf course,” Doolin said. “He always wants to learn, and I think when he wants to learn, that pushes us to want to learn more. That's why we keep advancing with all this technology. So as more and more comes out that can help us, he's gonna be the coach to research it and be on it.”
As Andrean's program grew in stature, internal competition stiffened. Jones said the difficulty of earning playing time forces players to constantly keep working — which, of course, leads to more wins and even more competition.
Mullen said Pishkur's practices are more game-like than others he has experienced, and Doolin said Pishkur has adjusted practice styles to fit his team's personality each year.
Pishkur makes the experience fun while simultaneously keeping practices productive, so players who don't see the field often continue to develop.
“I think whenever you go to Andrean and you want to play baseball, you better know you have to work real hard,” Mullen said. “He has to see your progression throughout the years, and he'll see it and make it happen and you'll get a chance. He always gives people chances.”
Players acknowledged that Pishkur doesn't like to talk about himself and prefers to stay out of the spotlight. The hype surrounding Andrean became greater than ever this season as the Niners racked up win after win, remaining undefeated against Indiana teams while pushing Pishkur over 1,000 career victories.
Andrean held the No. 1 spot in The Times Top 10 from start to finish. Thirty MLB scouts dotted the stands at Ozinga Field when Doolin, a Vanderbilt commit, pitched against Brother Rice on April 3. Throughout the season, Pishkur kept the team focused.
His influence perhaps stood out most once the postseason started. When Andrean fell behind Kankakee Valley 7-3 in the sectional final May 27, it could have folded under immense pressure. Instead, Pishkur inserted Doolin in a move meant to stem the tide on the scoreboard and psychologically.
When Andrean had cut the lead to 7-6, Pishkur pinch-hit senior Rigo Martinez for freshman Connor Misch. Martinez singled to right-center, and the 59ers walked off with an 8-7 win.
Just over three weeks later, Doolin trudged back to the dugout after allowing the go-ahead run in the sixth inning to Edgewood in the state title game — his first earned run allowed on normal rest against in-state competition.
Pishkur remained calm and let senior Matt Lelito rally the troops. Andrean tied it up in the bottom of the sixth and won it after Martinez led off the bottom of the seventh with a double — following Pishkur's decision to leave Martinez in rather than pinch hit for him.
If Pishkur had gotten uncharacteristically tight as Andrean's dream season was close to going down in flames, the 59ers' seventh state title might not have happened. In a season full of key strategic moves, this particular leadership decision eclipsed all else.
“I think his ability to understand who his players are is what makes him very, very special,” Doolin said. “He did a great job understanding when he needed to step in and when we had it. In our state (title) game, he'd say a couple things to us to get us to relax. He stayed very calm. I think he was confident in us, that we could pull it out.”