Lake Central is NWI's first 4A team to reach Victory Field since Munster in 2002
By Tommy Williams Post-Tribune correspondent June 15, 2012 10:56PM
Munster coach Bob Shinkan hugs his players after their state final victory over Evansville North Saturday, June 15, 2002, at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Lisa Schreiber/Post-Tribune
Class 1A: Lafayette Central Catholic (30-4) vs. Shakamak (27-6), noon CT
Class 2A: Northfield (28-5-1) vs. Evansville Mater Dei (18-13-1), 3 p.m. CT
Class 4A: Lake Central (31-1) vs. Roncalli (23-8-1), 6 p.m. CT
4A Radio: 1230-AM, 1370-AM
Updated: July 17, 2012 12:47PM
If you go by the regular season, the 2002 Munster baseball team was hardly a juggernaut, as compared with, say, this year’s Lake Central squad.
The current Indians are an impressive 31-1 and are ranked nationally by ESPN.
The 2002 Mustangs? As the saying goes, they didn’t quite pass the eye test, at least in the regular season. Even their own coach felt that they weren’t the best team in the region back then, and with good reason. Valparaiso, for one, was ranked as high as second in the state that year and had a pitcher who would eventually draw a major league baseball paycheck or two — a guy by the name of Jeff Samardzija.
“We didn’t have that impressive a record,” said Mustangs coach Bob Shinkan. “We were 18-9 going into the sectionals, but those kids had a mission in mind. We had some injuries that season, but when it came time to play, those guys put it together.”
It was 10 years ago that the Mustangs won the state championship with an impressive 9-1 win over Evansville North. No other Class 4A team from Northwest Indiana has put it together in Indianapolis ever since.
In fact, no area team has even made it to the 4A championship game since that 2002 Munster squad. Lake Central finally ended that drought with last week’s comeback victory over Zionsville in the semistate.
Shinkan never would have guessed it would take that long.
“No I wouldn’t have,” Shinkan said. “We have so many great programs up here, so it’s really surprising.”
Despite the not-so-spectacular record, the 2002 Mustangs were not exactly a surprise state title contender. The junior-oriented 2001 team made it to the final four of the tournament.
Those Mustangs and Shinkan, in his 16th season taking over the coaching reins from the legendary Mike Niksic, came up short in the semifinals. But one year later, behind the pitching of Elliot Gibbs (who no-hit Lowell and Griffith, and set the single-season school record for strikeouts, which still stands) and an all-star season from Mike Rosen, the Mustangs won state.
“There really isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that season,” Shinkan said. “It was the pinnacle of my career.”
It’s been 10 years since a region 4A coach has reached that pinnacle. Excellent programs such as Crown Point and Lake Central are glaring examples of how tough it is to win a semistate, let alone state. The Bulldogs have won nine regionals and all nine times, they could not get past the semistate. Lake Central finally made it to the semistate this year in its sixth attempt.
Of course, there were the mighty LaPorte squads who dominated to the tune of seven state titles back in Ken Schreiber’s tenure. But the Slicers haven’t been back to the state finals since winning their eighth crown in 2000 under current coach Scott Upp.
“It’s just so tough to get there,” Shinkan said, a sentiment coaches in just about every sport share. “In 2010 we went to the semistate when we had Ryan Wilkinson and we had to play Fort Wayne Carroll, who would wind up winning state. It’s tough trying to get to the state finals.”
This year’s Lake Central team can tell you a few stories about how tough it is. The Indians trailed late in their semistate game with Zionsville before tying it in the seventh and winning it in the ninth, sending them to their first state final.
Shinkan, for one, feels the Indians have a good chance to finally end the region’s 4A drought.
“Pitching and defense wins ball games and they have a couple of great starters over there,” Shinkan said. “They have all the tools they need to win this thing and I like their chances.”