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Hitting its stride: After some early-season struggles at the plate, Andrean is finding the barrels

MERRILLVILLE -- There was no telling it from Thursday's hitting performance, but there was a brief early-season stretch when Brad White couldn't crack the Andrean lineup.

Such is life in a baseball program where somebody's always capable of taking your spot.

"That's the thing about Andrean baseball," White said. "We're so deep, (coach Dave Pishkur is) trying to put the best nine out there every single day. We've got 13, 14 guys who are solid baseball players. The first few games, I didn't have the best start. I wasn't playing to the best of my ability. I wasn't seeing the ball well. I think all of us struggled early on finding our way. I didn't play for about a week, then I really got it together."

Initially in the eighth spot upon his return, White hit his way up the order, recently getting a crack at batting leadoff, and he literally ran with it.

"I got my opportunity and made the most of it," he said. "I came out and played like I play, do what I can to help us win, just play like an Andrean baseball player. I just kept doing what I needed to do. I love batting leadoff, trying to find a way to get on base, battle, don't strikeout, steal some bags, find a way to score."

White went 3-for-3 with three runs and three RBI in Thursday's 8-3 win over New Prairie, starting the game with a double inside the third base line, then homering to right field with a man on in the third and reaching on another shot to third in the fifth. He was robbed of a second double on a screaming line drive to left in the sixth, but it went down as a loud sacrifice fly.

"It was a 2-0 count, I was looking for something middle away, trying for opposite side," White said of the blast to right. "I got a good barrel on it and it ended up going."

Andrean barreled up a lot of Cougars pitches with several of its outs also struck well.

"This team has improved a lot," Pishkur said. "They've worked hard. The COVID year has affected everybody. We've pushed them at times, challenged them at times. We're definitely a better team than at the beginning of the year. Brad was struggling and now he's one of our better hitters. In some regards, we're playing pretty well. It's all predicated on how they've practiced and the stuff we've done with some of the (hitting) equipment."

Drayk Bowen tripled and scored twice and Robby Ballentine knocked in two runs for the 59ers, who scored in five of their six at-bats.

"We're playing really well right now, but we can still play better," White said. "When we play to the best of our ability, it's going to be scary."

Owen Walkowiak shut out the Cougars (10-7) across six innings, yielding five hits with six strikeouts and one walk in his first varsity start.

"I didn't know what (New Prairie was) going to be like, but he throws strikes," Pishkur said. "I'm really happy for him."

Walkowiak found out he was getting the ball when he walked into the dugout less than two hours before the game.

"My main focus was throw strikes and get ahead in the count," he said. "The defense made quite a few nice plays behind me. My pitching coach has a lot of confidence in me. (He said) just do what you do."

New Prairie scored three two-out runs in the seventh to avert the shutout.

"That's what today was about, kind of seeing where we're at," Schellinger said. "Coming over to this atmosphere, their dugout is always in the game, they're going to say some things to try to get a rise out of you, and I really wanted to go through that, to make our kids see how it goes. I thought we got caught on our heels a little bit. We want to attack the game, no matter who the opponent is. We focus on controlling us and we kind of let the awe of coming over here impact us a little bit. I think the guys realize it now. It just took them a few innings to settle in and by then, you're down four, five nothing."

Pishkur credits some of his team's hitting progress to the use of iPitch, a $12,000 computerized pitching machine that enables teams to run batting practice from a tablet. Coaches can control velocity, pitch type, location and even spin rate remotely

"It's pretty awesome," Pishkur said. "Today was the first time we actually threw to them. Our batting practice philosophy has changed. They can hit it, but it's not going to be easy anymore. Our batting practice is fastball, curve ball, fastball, curveball. It can changes within two seconds. If we're going to face a kid throwing 90s, OK, we'll set the thing at 90. It's what all the pros are using. I would say nobody has it in the state of Indiana and probably most colleges outside of the Big D-Is. I told Penn, Hanover Central. I forgot to tell Mark, but I try to explain it to everybody who comes in."

Former 59er Jeremy Wright, who played at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has also installed a camera system around the field that enables Andrean to film home games and now practices.

"I can go to the office and watch the whole game in 16 minutes because it cuts out the other stuff," Pishkur said. "Each guy can have his own at-bats. They can see their 35 swings, their bunts. It's like being in a TV studio, with the six cameras and big boards. You can't get any better than that. We've got some people who are very generous and they are every year. If there's something we want, we've got the money. We don't lack for anything and the kids are the beneficiaries of it."

Walkowiak saw the set-up in the press box and was impressed with the system.

"It's very cool to have all that," he said.

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