MERRILLVILLE | After a third straight loss in the regional round of the postseason, Dave Pishkur asked around about how to fix what was ailing the Andrean baseball team.
He wanted to learn something new, something else he could teach his players that would make them better.
So he started hanging out with a state champion from Illinois. Dave Haskins won a Class 4A IHSA title in 2008 with Prairie Ridge.
Pishkur didn't spend hours with Haskins, he spent days.
The Andrean coach had been at 5959 Broadway for 34 years and wanted to take back to Merrillville every droplet of information that he could from Haskins, who now coaches at Romeoville.
"I literally spend five days with this guy and we changed our whole pitching philosophy for this year," said Pishkur, who is The Times' 2014 baseball coach of the year. "To this day, I know now that the season has ended, I'm going to look at what we have coming back and find someone who is an expert in a certain part of the game or is considered an expert, and I'm going to seek that guy out and try to improve that aspect of our game."
It wasn't just Haskins that added to the new plan for the 2014 Andrean baseball team. Pishkur took ideas from anyone who would give them.
As he entered his 35th season with the 59ers, he used an idea that the Westfield baseball coach had already stolen from SEC universities. The Andrean team created the "Victory Challenge" named for Victory Field in Indianapolis, the final destination hope for the season. (The universities call the same workout the "Omaha Challenge.")
The Victory Challenge was a set of non-baseball activities designed to force competition and teamwork at the same time. The players were drafted into five teams and arrived at 6 every morning for a week, not knowing they'd be battling each other in feats of chin-ups, push-ups and an obstacle course.
"As you watched them do that competition, you were amazed how athletic they were," Pishkur said. "When you watched them do some of the stuff they were able to do and watched the competitiveness, you just knew something special was going to happen and that this team could be special."
On June 22, the Victory Challenge paid off at Victory Field. The Niners won their fourth state title and third in six seasons. Haskins will receive a championship ring, Pishkur said, because without him, the Niners wouldn't have made the changes that took them that far.
Haskins isn't the only person whose name wasn't on the final roster to receive a ring, Pishkur promised. Kevin Franchetti, who won a state championship with the Niners in 2009, returned for a month to coach the catchers.
This season Pishkur was happy to turn more work over to his assistants.
Joe Plesac, who spent six seasons in the San Diego Padres organization, worked with the pitchers. Ryne Pishkur, Dave's oldest son, created a hitting program and helped the team to an overall batting average of .365.
Not that anyone on the team knew their average. That was something else that Dave Pishkur committed his players to this season: quality at-bats. Instead of listing the weekly batting averages, Pishkur counted the quality of each at-bat: Did it advance a runner, put a runner on base, help a score, regardless of whether or not the at-bat was credited as a hit?
Not once all season, Pishkur said, did a player ask to see his batting average.
While the championship was the fourth in school history, all under Pishkur, the coach said that taking 24 years to win his first state title makes it easier for him to ask for help after every season.
"I think people don't realize with Andrean baseball, it took us 14 years to win a regional game," Pishkur said. "It didn't come easy. I'm glad it didn't because I think you just learn to persevere. If you have a goal, and obviously our first goal was to get through a gosh darn regional. Then the next goal has to be semistate. It took us another 10 years to get to the state championship. It took me 24 years to get to a state championship. I have never forgotten the struggle to get there. Go out and seek help, go out and find coaches that are better than you, go out and find coaches that have been successful and find that magical thing that works."