By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Longtime Western baseball coach Ty Calloway joked before the start of the season that he felt like a senior player. Calloway was entering his final season and the end of a fun run was going to arrive in a hurry.
The end came Saturday afternoon.
No. 3-ranked Norwell beat Western 5-2 in the Class 3A Kokomo Semistate at CFD Investments Stadium in Highland Park. The Knights improved to 32-3 and secured a spot in the state finals. Calloway’s Panthers finished 23-6 and two wins shy of repeating as 3A state champions.
Calloway was Western’s skipper for 36 years. Before that, he was an assistant for four years. And before that, he played for the Panthers.
“I put this uniform on for five years as a player because I played as an eighth grader on the junior varsity and four years of varsity,” he said with a slight smile and a crack in his voice. “That’s 45 years I’ve put this uniform on. Every day, I’ve been proud to put this uniform on. Hopefully the next guy will be just as proud.
“A lot of good memories. I’ll cherish them.”
Calloway finished his 36-year run as Western’s skipper with a 662-310 record. The 2012 Indiana Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee led his squads to 18 20-win seasons and numerous championships — 16 Mid-Indiana Conference crowns, 16 sectionals, six regionals, one semistate and one state championship. He had great success in both the one-class era and the class era.
Calloway heads into retirement knowing he picked the right career path.
“I always thought, ‘Man, they pay you to do this? I’d do it for nothing.’ If you can find something in life you enjoy, that’s the best thing you can do. I’ve been fortunate and blessed. It’s been great,” he said.
Norwell coach Andy McClain went head to head with Calloway for the second straight postseason. In 2012, McClain led Brebeuf Jesuit to the Class 3A title game. Western beat Brebeuf 8-1.
“Coach Calloway, I was happy for him last year. If it wasn’t me, I was glad it was him,” McClain said, noting his respect for Calloway. “He was the first man who shook my hand after the game [Saturday]. He is a class act and I wish him all the best in retirement.
“That’s a great program, a great community.”
Calloway tipped his cap to Western’s outgoing seniors — all-state outfielder Marcus Pingleton, ace pitcher Ronnie Smith, Cameron Kuntz, Dakota LaMott, Mitchell Shahan, Austin Dukes and Nathan Kirk. They helped Western compile a 48-15 overall record over the last two years including a 10-1 record in postseason games.
“Our seniors did a great job. Ever since they were freshmen, they’ve been successful. They came up through the program and worked hard,” Calloway said.
Pingleton and Smith were the stars of the class. Pingleton went 2 for 3 Saturday, finished his senior season with a .559 batting average and finished his career with 124 hits and a .425 average. Smith started on the mound Saturday against hard-hitting Norwell and took the loss. The UAB recruit had a 9-2 record this year and a 21-7 career record. He was the winning pitcher in the 2012 Class 3A state title game.
Calloway praised Pingleton and Smith and also talked about his other seniors.
“The kid who probably improved the most over the last four years to me is Cameron Kuntz. Dakota LaMott has a little bit of an arm problem, but he stepped up and became a leader on this team. Mitch Shahan does a great job — from an attitude standpoint, you can’t beat Mitch. Dukesy is a good kid, salutatorian in his class, and Nathan Kirk is a good boy, too.
“Good kids — that’s what we’ve always wanted in our program.”
Going forward, Calloway will look to work with a younger group of players.
“Just because I’m retiring from Western doesn’t mean I’m not going to coach again. I’m going to be coaching little league. I’m not shutting the door [on other possibilities] — maybe down the road, I might coach someplace else,” Calloway said, noting how former Taylor coach George Phares joined Indiana Wesleyan University’s coaching staff.
“I’ll let the door stay open.”