2017 Renegade HS Baseball Final Poll ...
and a look ahead to 2018 for Northwest Indiana

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


No one has more pitching coming back next year than Chesterton, which lost the sectional title, in some respects, due to the new IHSAA pitch count rules. The Trojans are certainly a team to watch during the 2018 season. (Photo by Mark Smith)

MERRILLVILLE (7-20-2017) Tough finish to the high school baseball season with Hebron falling short of the state finals. This was the year when the Hawks had an unusually talented team. Sometimes, the year AFTER you have the best boys is the year you break through.

I am glad to see a small resurgence in American Legion baseball in Northwest Indiana. Since the Post 20 team in Crown Point was discontinued, the play in this area almost disappeared. Boys went to 'travel teams', Babe Ruth all-stars or the Little League's older brackets.

But Michigan City and East Chicago formed teams in the last couple of years and now there's the "region Legion Expos' in Lake County. The Little League has discontinued its 'Big League' bracket for boys 18 and under and that may have helped the Legion, which reportedly has 30 senior teams (age 19 and under) teams in Indiana this summer.

I have always thought that American Legion baseball makes a mistake with its age limit.

Youth baseball and high school summer sports all battle over the same boys, the ages 14-18 bracket.

If American Legion baseball was for boys 21 and under, they might increase their numbers. When I followed Post 20 and the old Lowell Post 101, I always heard that boys don't have time to play baseball once they get to be 20 years old.

Some don't.

There are lots of immoral, weak-minded and un-American distractions like girls, high paying summer jobs and wasted days at the beach, that seduce ballplayers into a summer preview of "the rest of their lives." But there are also boys who go away to college and don't play baseball there. Or they ride the bench as freshmen on college teams, which end their season in May or early June. The ballplayers then come back home and they're too old for Babe Ruth and American Legion ball. There are summer collegiate leagues that field teams like Whiting's Oilmen, but there are not many of them. And you have to be in a college baseball program to play.

If the American Legion would take 20-year-old players you would still have largely teenage teams. You would only add the few older boys who may not be stars but just cant give up baseball (the ones you want, frankly) working with the younger players. You might get strong groups from Babe Ruth ball who grew too old (18 and under) for that league.
If you played games close to home (as the Legion does) and emphasize the community local aspect of your team, charge low fees to sign up with the idea of reaching regional state tournaments with a chance to get to (all expense paid) national play, I think you could revive the 'town teams' of the past century.

You could abide by IHSAA rules limiting high school players on summer teams because you would be fielding graduates who are beyond IHSAA rules. Your state tournaments would not have to rush to completion because high school sports fall seasons would not affect them.

And finally, your quality of play would be better because you'd have some experienced high school graduates on the field representing the home town. I still believe that a lot of young people want to play sports with the name of their home town or county on their chest.

Andrean will be Class 3A, after two seasons as a 4A school. Gary West Side will drop from 4A to 3A by enrollment, meaning 4A Sectional 1 will either add a team, or become a six-team sectional. Wheeler unfortunately moves from 2A to 3A for the 2018 playoffs.

Why is that bad? Because they reach 3A just as Andrean does.

Again, let's look at five teams of interest for 2018. Not the best five teams. Just five who will have questions answered.

1. (2A) Hebron (29-4)
21-9 (2016), 18-3 (2015), 15-11 (2014), 13-11 (2013)

HEBRON: The 'people's champ,' even though they got stomped 9-2 by unranked Waphahani at the Semistate. We'll never know, but Waphahani's upset of Class 2A No. 1 Lafayette Catholic (30-4) in the regional final (the game before the Semistate) may have lured the Hawks into a false sense of superiority. Waphahani (19-12) got equally stomped on 9-4 by Cardinal Ritter (28-3) in the 2A state championship game, while the Hawks (29-4) watched on TV, knowing they'd have been a better matchup. Hebron graduates 10 seniors off a team that went 58-17 the last three seasons, but they do bring back significant experience. Junior pitcher Travis Patrick (6-1, 1.72 ERA, 36Ks, 7 walks in 41 innings) also hit five home runs, and drove in 43, batting .476 (49 of 103). Logan Ryan (42 of 100, .420) and part-timer Jake Wheeler (12 of 29, .414) are also back. The Hawks won't have the dominant team that batted .410 and averaged 12 runs a game, but with a few good newcomers, they will be sectional and regional contenders again.

2. (3A) Andrean (26-9)
26-6 (2016), 30-6 (2015), 31-4 (2014), 27-3-1 (2013)

MERRILLVILLE: The 59ers did win a 4A sectional championship before losing to Penn 9-5 at the regional. After a fifth consecutive 25-win season, the 59ers will be good again (breaking news, right?) with Nick Fushi (.341, 30 RBIs), Clay Thompson (.318, 21 RBIs plus 6-1 with a 2.75 pitching ERA) and Mike Doolin (8-0, 1.59 ERA), who batted .380 with 25 RBIs. The really good news for Andrean is that they drop back to Class 3A (Andrean has about 500 students) for the 2018 season. I like to see private schools play up a level in the high school playoffs. I think that's fair. But Andrean would be a 2A by their actual enrollment. They will only be 3A in 2018, because you aren't allowed to drop two classes in the IHSAA. For the next two years, the 59ers will be a 3A team and a 3A state contender.

3. (4A) Chesterton (19-9)
19-10 (2016), 16-16 (2015), 15-12 (2014), 20-6 (2013)

CHESTERTON: The Trojans graduated seven seniors, but all state right-hander Austin Peterson (7-0, 1.38 ERA) was not one of them. The Trojans were unlucky. They win the sectional championship game with Andrean if pitch count rules don't force Peterson to leave the game in the seventh inning with a 4-2 lead. No. 2 pitcher fast-baller Grant Brunt also returns, so Chesterton should have the pitching they need. The Trojans did graduate five position players so jobs are available. But with the playoff format and sectional schedule the way it is, you only need two pitchers. Chesterton would be helped if Sectional 2 goes to six teams instead of seven, something that is possible with West Side and Andrean both falling to 3A in Lake County. Two teams would get a bye in a six team sectional and, if Chesterton gets a bye, nothing (not even pitch count rules) will run them out of pitching in the 2018 sectional.

4. (4A) Crown Point (19-9)
19-9 (2016), 25-6 (2015), 17-13 (2014), 7-17 (2013)

CROWN POINT: Crown Point just came up bad on the opening day of sectional play, losing 15-7 to Chesterton, spoiling a good season. The Bulldogs graduated nine players, including most of their pitchers. But six position players who stated against Chesterton were underclassmen including leadoff man Nick DeFries. Junior right-hander Ryan Bolda could get a lot of starts in 2018. Freshman team won-loss records at large schools can be deceptive, but CP was 17-1 with a loss to Lake Central. CP looks like they'll be able to equal this season's 19 wins. Beyond that, there is a possibility that Crown Point moves to 4A Sectional 1, although it would seem more likely that Sectionals 1 and 2 both become 6-team sectionals.

5. (4A) Lake Central (23-9)
27-5 (2016), 25-5-1 (2015), 23-10 (2014), 23-9 (2013), 32-1 (2012)

ST. JOHN: LC graduated 13 seniors off a team that lost 6-2 to Penn at the regional. But LC loses 9 or 10 seniors every year, don't they? The Indians have more depth than the Chinese Army and more arms than the U.S. military. But 2018 will be unusual. This team loses seven college players, including two future Big-10 players. They lost almost the entire pitching staff. In the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC), most teams returns good pitching (Chesterton) or a lot of position players (Portage, CP and Valpo). I'm intrigued to see if the program keeps producing enough players not just to have a winning season but to compete in the DAC.

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Revised: July 31, 2017.