Baseball: Hebron extends success from hardwood to diamond
By Mark Lazerus 648-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 5, 2012 11:20PM
Hebron's Head Coach John Steinhilber calls a timeout in the first inning to talk to his piitcher after giving up several runs at the very start of the game vs Washington Township in Valparaiso on May 19, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:52AM
HEBRON — In the bitter moments following Hebron’s 81-63 loss to Bowman in the North Judson boys basketball regional in March, it dawned on coach John Steinhilber that baseball season began in less than 48 hours.
So Steinhilber — who also coaches baseball at Hebron — told his four dual-sport guys that he was going to take three days off to decompress and recharge his batteries, and that they should, too. In fact, he ordered Damon Wallace, Kyle Joyce, Brad Stooksbury and Bryce Hanaway to stay away from those first few baseball practices.
They didn’t listen.
“If we had days off, this is what we’d be doing anyway,” shrugged Joyce, a junior. “This is what we do for fun. We’d come out here and taking batting practice or something.”
So even though Steinhilber’s assistant coach wouldn’t let the four basketball players participate in those first three practices, they kept showing up anyway. Because when you’re winning this much and having this much fun, burnout’s not really a factor.
These Hawks (20-8) have been hard at work since hoops practices began in October, with hardly any time off since. A sectional championship in basketball pushed that season into the spring. The baseball team’s first sectional championship nudged that season into June. And now, the program’s first regional title has edged it beyond the end of the school year.
But you won’t hear these guys complaining. Because a win in this Saturday’s semistate against Northfield (27-5) at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium would put them in the Class 2A state championship game.
That beats sleeping in and playing video games, any day.
“I’m sure my body will feel it in two months,” said Wallace, a senior point guard and slugger. “But right now, it’s not a problem.”
As big a deal as the basketball sectional was for the Hebron community — and it was a big deal — it’s always been about baseball season for the Hawks themselves. Heck, Joyce originally joined the basketball team just to stay in shape for baseball season.
“But winning a sectional championship wasn’t bad, either,” he said with a sly smile.
Even Wallace, who performed so well in basketball season this year that he was recruited by IUN to play basketball in college, always has been a baseball-first guy.
The basketball title just sort of snuck up on everybody.
“This whole class — we consider (Joyce) like a senior because he’s been with us the entire time — is just really athletic,” Wallace said. “It’s one of the most athletic classes we’ve had in Hebron in a long time. We just wanted to have a fun time.”
Baseball, though, is serious business around these parts. And last year’s 6-2 loss to Culver in the sectional championship game left a lasting impression on the Hawks. And even if it didn’t, Steinhilber made sure they had a daily reminder of it, tacking a photo in the dugout of Culver’s players celebrating with the sectional trophy.
That picture just came down last week, a few days after the Hawks knocked off Rochester 8-2 in the title game at Boone Grove.
“We felt like we should have won the sectional last year,” Steinhilber said. “I think it’s driven the kids. That’s why, switching from basketball to baseball, I knew it wasn’t going to be a situation where I had to motivate them. They were already motivated.”
The basketball success only made the Hawks — particularly Wallace, Joyce and Stooksbury, who started for both teams — more confident, and more resilient.
“Stooksbury’s caught every inning for me this year, and every inning but one last year,” Steinhilber said. “He’s one of the guys that played a big role in us beating North Judson (in the basketball sectional), he was able to guard one of their kids. It gave them some confidence that when they’re struggling, they can remember, ‘Hey, I’ve had success.’ It’s helped them get through the slumps and the rough patches you have every year.”
And there have been rough patches. In fact, the Hawks didn’t really have the regular season they expected to have. They were non-factors in the Porter County Conference race, behind the likes of Hanover Central, Washington Township and Morgan Township They didn’t make the finals of the PCC tournament. They had their chances, but lost 2-1 to Hanover Central, and 4-1 to Washington on an eighth-inning, three-run homer.
But once the postseason began, the Hawks found another level. And now they’ve reached a point even they didn’t know they could reach.
I knew we had a great team and would have a chance to go far,” Joyce said. “That’s why it was easy to go straight from basketball to baseball. I was really looking forward to this season. I knew we could do it, but I wasn’t exactly sure we were going to. It’s pretty crazy right now.”
The town of Hebron, for the second time in three months, is in a tizzy over these guys. Hawks fans packed Boone Grove for the sectional, and flocked to Whiting’s Oil City Stadium for the regional. Now, only professional stadiums are left for the Hawks — Coveleski Stadium on Saturday, and maybe, just maybe, Victory Field the following week.
Burned out? Nah. Not these guys. They’re having too much fun.
“I’m never going to forget this year,” Wallace said. “I keep telling Stooks, ‘Could we have a better senior year?’ There aren’t many kids that get to win a basketball sectional in Indiana, and then go out for baseball and win a sectional and a regional. It’s been unbelievable.”