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Assistant coaches help pave the way to a state championship: 'I've had a coach tell me before that the head coach is only as strong as his assistants. I truly believe that'

Jun. 11—EFFINGHAM — You're only as strong as your assistants.

That was some advice that St. Anthony head baseball coach Tony Kreke received when discussing the importance of help in the dugout.

"I had a coach tell me before that the head coach is only as strong as his assistants. I truly believe that," Kreke said. "It goes without saying. You have to have a strong, close-knit group that's willing to believe in each other and hold each other accountable."

The trio of Whitney Miller, Clint Lustig and Blake Malatestinic are just that and were just as important to the makeup of last week's state championship victory as Kreke was. They are three of the four assistant coaches registered under that title, with the fourth being Mark Young.

Each of the three has a different story, too.

WHITNEY MILLER

Miller is a volunteer assistant in his first year.

"I came in a couple of weeks after the season started. I came on as a volunteer coach, so I would just help out the JV team and once that season ended, I moved over to help the varsity," Miller said. "I helped keep the energy going and helped out wherever needed."

Kreke believes that Miller has a lot of knowledge to share.

He added the importance of the word "volunteer," too.

"Anytime you get a guy who's volunteering his own time, you know it truly means a lot to him," Kreke said. "He brings a lot of knowledge, a lot of wisdom."

Miller couldn't give Kreke enough credit, though.

"He brought me in and allowed me to tag along and just learn," Miller said. "He's just so knowledgeable about baseball."

CLINT LUSTIG

Lustig is known as the "team morale" guy.

Kreke has known him for quite some time, too. Both graduated from Teutopolis High School.

"He loves baseball," Kreke said. "Good family man. He was on the state championship (team) for T-Town and he knows what it takes to win a state title, but he's a guy, he'll do anything for these guys. He's helping build the program from the younger level. He sees these guys for four years before I get the chance to coach them."

Lustig came on board with Kreke two years ago.

"I started off being the head coach of the junior varsity last spring and once I (finished) the junior varsity season, I slid over and helped out practice with the varsity and help out wherever needed," Lustig said. "My role with the team is not necessarily anything special but keeping the team morale up."

Players refer to Lustig as "Diesel."

He refers to Kreke as the "perfect fit" for St. Anthony.

"I've always thought he was a really great person, great coach, great husband," Lustig said. "He was a perfect fit for this school and program."

BLAKE MALATESTINIC

Malatestinic came to St. Anthony after finishing up his schoolwork at Eastern Illinois, where he also played baseball for six years.

He accepted a position at the grade school and has been there since the fall.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got into coaching this fall," Malatestinic said. "When I got the job with the grade school, Coach Rincker asked if it'd be something I'd want to do and I said, 'Yes.' I show up for the first couple of days of practice and then we have our first game and I'm like, 'Holy cow. These guys can play.' It's just a strong group of kids. You didn't have anyone that was complaining or anyone who was pointing fingers. It was a good, solid group of guys. That reminds me of good teams that I played on."

While playing for Eastern, Malatestinic learned a lot.

"I learned a lot about a good recipe for winning at a high level with how important camaraderie is and how important a good glue foundation is," he said. "I learned the importance of routine, hard work. You have to knuckle up and get to work and that's something I admire about the guys here.

"They want to get the work done."

Malatestinic is the pitching coach for the team — a unit that was deadly down the stretch.

He said he was able to take the knowledge that was still fresh in his mind and use it to help Brock Fearday, Aiden Lauritzen and Joseph Tegeler — the three who saw time on the bump during the state tournament.

"I didn't really lose anything," Malatestinic said. "I was grateful for how receptive they were, how coachable they were. I could say whatever I want; I could bring whatever I want to the table. If I have kids that aren't eager to get better and not eager to listen, then it'll fall on flat ears."

Kreke called Malatestinic an "unbelievable asset to the program."

"He's a young man who is wise beyond his years," Kreke said. "I'm extremely grateful that he chose St. Anthony to come and teach and coach.

"He just brings so much to the program."

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at {span}618-510-9231{/span} or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com.