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Rick Houston | | May 30, 2014

Southern Indiana makes most of core group from Evansville

  Ten players from this season's Southern Indiana roster have local ties.

CARY, N.C. - There's something to be said for home cooking.

The decision is one faced by millions of high-school seniors every year. Do they go to a nearby college or attend an out-of-state institution? Are they homebodies or the adventurous sort? Which school has the most to offer?

No less than nine players on this year's Southern Indiana roster are from right there in Evansville, and a tenth was voted back into the "club" after spending his senior year of high school in Zionsville.

There are a handful of interlopers such as A.J. Dokey of Howell, Mich.; Matt Chavarria from Carlsbad, N.M.; Mount Pearl, Newfoundland's Andrew Mercer; and Drew Cataldo of Boston. Other than those few, however, the rest of the squad is comprised of players from the local tri-state area of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky in general.

And Evansville itself in particular. With the Screaming Eagles now just one game removed from playing for a national championship in the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship, it's a recruiting strategy that has worked well for head coach Tracy Archuleta.

"It's easier to get everyone molded in and trying to get everybody team oriented, because it's about four or five guys getting acclimated to the area versus twenty-five," said Archuleta, who, by the way, is from Iliff, Colorado of all places. "It has been easier getting that team chemistry and getting the four or five guys in with the rest of the team.

"Our goal in recruiting has been keeping the best players in the tri-state going to USI. It just happened. It's worked out for us, it really has, in the recruiting process. They give each other a hard time about it, more than anything else. It's easier, as far as the team unity, just getting everybody involved a little bit."

Catcher Ryan Bertram spent the first three years of his high school career in Evansville, the third-largest city in the state with a total population of nearly 120,000. His dad's job took the family to Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis, for his senior year.

"At first, I wasn't really happy about it," Bertram said. "It was actually a great transition. I really enjoyed my senior year in Zionsville. Before, I wasn't very excited about it but it worked out great."

Caleb Eickhoff, another native of the city, jokes and says that Bertram was allowed back into the Evansville club after his passport was checked.

"We knew he was an Evansville guy at heart," Eickhoff said. "Everyone pretty well knew him still from being in the city. Yeah, I guess we voted him back in."

Knowing each other for so long has indeed contributed to the team's sense of camaraderie.

"When I lived in Evansville, we all either played together or played against each other in high-school ball," Bertram said. "We all know each other from that, and I think we've all just really come together as proud to be from Evansville and proud to play together for the city of Evansville and for USI."

There are several public and private high schools in Evansville -- Benjamin Bosse, Central, North, Francis Joseph Reitz, William Henry Harrison, Signature, Reitz Memorial, Mater Dei and Evansville Day School, take your pick. As heated as rivalries can get in college at the national level, they're every bit as alive and well at the local level.

As close as they've become at Southern Indiana, players still won't hesitate to rag on each other about past high-school allegiances.

"The Evansville guys have a little bit of a special bond," said left fielder Brad Wannemuehler, a Mater Dei grad who has been award this year's prestigious Elite 89 award for highest GPA here at the DIvision II Baseball championship. "It's always fun. We do have some guys who played other high-school sports against each other.

"For example, high-school football. You've got guys a lot of times telling high-school stories of, 'Remember this time,' or 'Remember that time we played you?' It's always in fun, but yeah, we do give each other a lot of hard times joking around."

Second baseman Caleb Eickhoff is also a Mater Dei alum, just like Wannemuehler.

"There's guys from Memorial, Reitz, North, Harrison, Bosse," Eickhoff began. "We talk about the high-school games that we had, and how one team beat up on the other team. They still talk about games that are played today with the high-school teams … hey, Mater Dei beat Memorial last night or Memorial beat Mater Dei, whatever it is."

In the end here this week, it doesn't really matter where a student-athlete might have played his high-school ball. Mater Dei … Memorial … Reitz … wherever. That was way back, as far as maybe just a year or so ago.

Now … it's all about USI, and they're good with that.