Season Review: Baseball locks down back-to-back OAC Tournament appearances, sixth successive winning season in 2019

Season Review: Baseball locks down back-to-back OAC Tournament appearances, sixth successive winning season in 2019

By Blake Moore

ADA — For the first time since the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the Ohio Northern baseball program secured back-to-back appearances in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament while also registering its sixth consecutive winning season during the 2019 campaign under eighth-year head coach Gene Stechschulte.

This season, the Polar Bears posted a 23-18 overall record and a 10-8 mark against league opposition to tie for third in the final OAC standings. For the effort, ONU registered its fifth OAC upper-division finish in the last six seasons.

In the OAC Tournament, Northern compiled a 1-2 record after defeating NCAA Division III College World Series participant Heidelberg in the opening game, the program's first postseason win since 2000.

"It was great to stay near the top of the OAC after such a long time not getting into the postseason," Stechschulte remarked. "Our young guys stepped up after having to replace six starters from last season, and the pitching staff got stronger late in the year to carry us to some key conference wins."

"The challenge moving forward will be to continue to build on what we have accomplished the last couple of years. But with all the returning players in 2020, we are looking forward to the future. Our pitching staff should be deep with senior experience, so that should translate into some continued success. However, we will need to build more depth as we go forward in order to increase our level of competition on a daily basis."

Following the successful campaign, five Ohio Northern baseball players were tabbed to the All-OAC squads for their efforts on the diamond.

Sophomore Michael Rocco (Orlando, Fla./Zionsville, Ind.) topped the selections after being named a First-Team All-OAC honoree. Additionally, senior Luke Klinehoffer (Zanesville/John Glenn) and junior Jack Schaller (Bowling Green) were dubbed Second-Team All-OAC, while senior Jackson Buda (Norton) and junior Nate Bye (Thorntown, Ind./Western Boone) earned Honorable Mention kudos.

Rocco, a first-time honoree, had a breakout sophomore campaign after moving into the Polar Bears' starting shortstop role.

He finished third in the OAC with a .401 batting average and led the team with a .446 on-base percentage, a .458 slugging percentage, 28 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. He also ended second on the team with 57 base hits, which ranks 10th-most in a single season at Ohio Northern.

Through two seasons, Rocco has compiled 61 base hits, 31 runs, 31 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and eight doubles in a Polar Bear uniform.

Klinehoffer leaves the program as a three-time honoree after being named Honorable Mention in 2017 and First-Team All-OAC in 2018.

After setting the single-season hit record with 71 in 2018, he led the Polar Bears with 59 total hits from the leadoff spot. He also topped ONU with 30 runs and 12 doubles and tied for second with 24 RBI and a .335 batting average.

Klinehoffer currently ties for first in career doubles (46) and ranks third overall in base hits (193) at Ohio Northern. He also ranks third with 559 total at-bats and sixth in program history with 256 total bases. Meanwhile, his .345 career batting average is tied for 15th-best all-time.

The senior is also a two-time OAC All-Tournament Team member, a 2018 D3Baseball.com Second-Team All-Mideast Region honoree, a 2018 ABCA/Rawlings Third-Team All-Mideast Region selection, and a one-time OAC Hitter of the Week.

Schaller is a two-time honoree after receiving Honorable Mention kudos in 2017.

The Bowling Green product tied for the team lead and tied for sixth in the OAC with five victories on the mound this season. He started all eight contests in which he appeared and posted a 5-3 record, a 2.86 ERA, and 18 strikeouts in 44.1 innings pitched, the second-highest workload on the team.

His ERA value also ranked eighth-lowest among qualifying pitchers in the league.

The junior has made 24 starts in 27 appearances for 127.2 innings in three seasons. He owns a 13-8 overall record with a 3.04 ERA and 104 strikeouts.

Buda picked up his first career All-OAC honor with the selection.

In 2019, he appeared in 14 games out of the Polar Bear bullpen to post a 2-0 record and one save in 32.1 innings pitched. His stat line included 15 strikeouts and a 1.68 ERA, which topped the Ohio Northern pitching staff (minimum 10 innings).

During his career, Buda appeared in 26 total contests and posted an undefeated 3-0 record with one save. He owns a 2.34 career ERA, which ranks sixth-lowest in program history, with 25 strikeouts in 50.0 total innings.

Bye garnered his second consecutive All-OAC Honorable Mention accolade after receiving the same award in 2018.

He tied with Schaller for the team lead and sixth in the OAC with five pitching victories this season. Bye also led the pitching staff with 10 starts and 44 strikeouts in a team-high 63.2 innings worked, the ninth-largest workload in the league.

Through three seasons, Bye owns a 3.38 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 125.1 innings. He has posted a 9-5 overall record in 25 appearances and 19 starts.

The Polar Bears also had a strong year in the classroom with 10 players named Academic All-OAC. Seniors Caleb Thomas (Strongsville), Blake Lester (Chesepeake), and Buda, juniors Scott Beaton (Novi, Mich.) and Sean Sweeney (Morrow/Little Miami), and sophomores Matthew Burkett (Maumee), Alex Dodson (West Chester/Lakota West), James Fisher (Castalia/Margaretta), Andy Mills (Cincinnati/St. Xavier), and Rocco were all honored for their efforts in the classroom.

Thomas, a senior mechanical engineering major, was also named a CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-America First-Team and Academic All-District First-Team selection this year.

In 39 games, Thomas registered a .271 batting average with 42 hits in 155 official at-bats. He led the team with two home runs and tied for second with 24 RBI while adding 14 runs and six doubles.

He ends his career with a .271 batting average, 135 hits, 85 RBI, 32 doubles, nine home runs, and four stolen bases. He currently ranks eighth all-time at Ohio Northern in career doubles and sits 32nd on the all-time hits list.

He is a three-time Academic All-OAC honoree, a two-time CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-District 7 selection, a two-time CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-American, and a 2018 All-OAC First-Team selection.

Lester, a first-time honoree, is a senior right-hander studying civil engineering.

He appeared in a career-high 11 games during his senior campaign, starting five contests to record a 2-1 record in 29.0 innings. His numbers included a 5.59 ERA, a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 30 total strikeouts, which ended second-best among the pitching staff.

Lester has appeared in 19 contests with nine starts over his career. He has posted a 3-4 overall record and a 4.80 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 54.1 innings.

Meanwhile, Buda became a three-time honoree following the league's announcement.

Beaton, who was honored for the second straight season, is a junior pitcher studying sport management and communications.

During the 2019 season, the right-handed hurler tossed 20.1 innings in 15 total appearances. He posted a 6.64 ERA, 13 strikeouts, and a save during his third year at Ohio Northern.

Beaton has pitched 65.1 innings in 42 career appearances, including a school-record 23 pitching appearances in 2018. He owns a 2-4 career record with three saves, a 3.86 ERA, 44 strikeouts, and a 6.06 K/9 ratio.

Sweeney, Burkett, Dodson, Fisher, Mills, and Rocco were each named for the first time.

Sweeney, a junior studying exercise physiology, tossed 6.1 innings in nine relief appearances on the mound. He recorded eight strikeouts and his first career save in a 4-2 victory over nonconference foe Wright-St. Lake.

Burkett, a sophomore accounting student, appeared in 40 games this season.

He finished second on the team this season with 10 doubles, was third with a .329 batting average, and stood fifth with 20 RBI. He added 47 total hits, 18 runs, and four stolen bases to the Polar Bear efforts in 2019.

Through two seasons, Burkett has appeared in 58 contests. He has 60 base hits, 22 runs, 10 doubles, two home runs, and 28 RBI on a .323 career batting average.

Dodson is a sophomore mechanical engineering major and a left-handed pitcher for ONU.

The first-time honoree appeared in five contests this season to record two strikeouts in 3.2 innings. He made his collegiate pitching debut in the program's 15-5 victory over Bridgewater (Va.) at the RussMatt Invitational on their annual Spring Break trip to Florida.

Fisher, a sophomore nursing student, was honored for the first time after leading the Polar Bear pitching staff with 16 appearances this year.

During the season, he registered a 1-0 record with two saves in 29.0 innings worked. He posted a 3.41 ERA and struck out 13 batsmen while conceding just 11 earned runs and seven walks.

Fisher has appeared in 20 games during his career for 35.0 total innings. He owns a 3.34 career ERA and 14 career strikeouts.

Mills, a marketing major, also garnered Academic All-OAC accolades during the 2018 men's soccer season.

This season, the sophomore outfielder appeared in 31 games for Ohio Northern, recording career-highs with a .304 batting average, 17 hits, six stolen bases, and five RBI.

Through two seasons, Mills has recorded 18 hits on a .295 career batting average. He also owns 21 runs, five RBI, six stolen bases, and a .394 on-base percentage.

Rocco is a sophomore accounting major, earning his first academic award this season.

Ohio Northern kicked off the 2019 season with their annual Spring Break trip to Florida, appearing in the RussMatt Invitational. The Polar Bears posted a 7-3 record over the eight-day excursion, which included a five-game win streak from March 5-9.

After dropping four games on the road upon returning to the Midwest, ONU rebounded with a 9-0 victory in its home opener over Thomas More (Ky.).

Northern also registered nonconference victories over Bluffton, Wittenberg, Wright St.-Lake, and Albion (Mich.) during the 2019 campaign.

In early April, the Polar Bears picked up their first two conference wins with splits against Capital and Mount Union at Wander Field. Ohio Northern then reeled off six consecutive OAC wins with sweeps over John Carroll, Otterbein, and Marietta.

The Orange and Black secured their second consecutive trip to the OAC Tournament after splitting their remaining two series versus Muskingum and at Wilmington.