Lance Hershberger's second startup college baseball team in Fort Wayne has gotten off to a much better start than his initial one. The veteran coach began the program at Indiana Tech in 1990 and went 0-23.
His first season of building the Ivy Tech baseball team from scratch wrapped up Wednesday with a 15-10 win over Edison State. The Titans finished the season 25-17, including a 15-4 win over then-No. 2 Kellogg (Michigan) on April 24.
“We have gone out and competed with some really good teams and done OK for a first-year program,” Hershberger said. “What you ask the first team to do is set the tone, and they have done that. They play hard. You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and we have done that.”
Because it is a first-year program, Ivy Tech was ineligible for the National Junior College Athletic Association postseason.
“It's been crazy, but it has been worth it,” center fielder Turner Gentry said. “We have had ups and downs, but I am definitely glad I came up here. I love Hersh and like what he was going to do with the program.”
Hershberger quickly built Indiana Tech into an NAIA contender, and the 1998 Warriors' national runner-up team was recently inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
“I am kind of unique in that I have done this before; two colleges (baseball teams) in my hometown that I've started,” Hershberger said. “That's pretty cool, but you also forget the difficulties associated with that.”
After an 0-4 start, the Titans picked up their first-ever win against Edison State, a 5-3 decision March 2. That means Ivy Tech got its first and last win of the season against the same Chargers team.
“That was huge,” shortstop Alex Vela said of beating Kellogg. “Our first win against Edison was big too.”
The first call-out meeting produced interest from more than 40 players, but that number quickly started dropping.
“A couple of guys quit right after the meeting,” Vela said. “Then we had conditioning, and guys were falling away after that to injuries, grades, all that. Just getting enough guys out here to play has probably been the toughest part.”
The number was around 30 at the start of the season, but the Titans had only 12 healthy players when the season ended.
“What has surprised me is our ability to compete with such a small group of players,” Hershberger said. “But they haven't made any excuses, and they have just gone out and played.”
Ivy Tech's eight position players had no backups and they finished the season with only one healthy catcher. It also meant some position players had to pitch, and forced Hershberger, who has also coached at Bishop Dwenger and Concordia, to go to the mound and change position players as well as pitchers as is commonly seen in high school.
Depth is on the way, though, with the signing of 17 recruits for next season.
“It can only go up from here. We have had a great season, and from what I have heard, we have some great recruits coming in,” Gentry said.