If a national JV baseball ranking system existed, chances are the Ohio Northern JV team has beaten some of the top schools in the region. The Polar Bear cubs are currently 6-0 on the junior circuit season with four games left on the schedule.
“We’ve moved up from D3 competition, to beating division II teams and even a division I [club] team,” said freshman infielder Hayden Shenefield.
The team consists mostly of freshmen while they get their feet wet on the college baseball scene, learning along the way. Of the starting ten players, nearly 90% are freshmen, on average. Most non-freshmen members are on the pitching staff. Wins over Northland (Wis.), Widener (Pa.), Otterbein, Ashland, Ohio Dominican and Bowling Green’s club team have this young team rolling.
The self-titled “Northern Bomb Squad” is a unit of great chemistry, each team member taking turns jabbing at the others during our interview. As a group made up of mostly freshmen, those surroundings are familiar. “We take the game seriously between the white lines, but we also have great chemistry off the field,” said freshman outfielder Joe Riehl, a statement that others echoed. “Joe hit it on the head,” said Jason Burkett, “we’re out there having fun but still trying to prove ourselves.” Head nods from the rest of the group followed.
A JV team is sometimes looked at as a downgrade from their varsity brothers, but many of the members here dabble in both. The only difference is on game days, as all members of the team practice together each day. The development of these young players is sometimes overlooked at larger schools that may not recognize the importance of a JV team. As recently as 2012, the ONU JV team played just three games all season, with up to five or six of those cancelled. Triple that is what the Polar Bear cubs are staring at in 2015. The goals coming into the season of the four players I spoke with ranged from becoming a better hitter, to lowering their pitch counts, to establishing themselves and competing for a varsity spot. The JV circuit provides them an opportunity to do just that: improve on these areas in a competitive atmosphere against good competition.
As for the man in charge of these kids, that would be first-year assistant coach Bryce Sedio, a 2013 ONU graduate. “It’s nice to be able to relate to a young coach,” said Riehl, a Westerville native. Blending in on the college campus, Sedio takes his work with the young JV team seriously, while also serving as the first base coach for the senior squad. In his years here, he played various positions on the field, often switching gloves from third base, to first base, to catcher and outfield, and finally settling in as a pitcher over his final two seasons as a Polar Bear student-athlete.
“We put together a lineup of all freshmen during the winter and liked what we had,” said Sedio. Combine those talented freshmen with a few sophomores and juniors, and a competitive team appeared. “Our expectations were to compete every game,” Sedio added. The pitching has been great, to the tune of a 1.20 ERA, and the hitting has been the “epitome of timely,” the young skipper said. The best part of this JV team? That all these guys have a good attitude about it and are not reluctant to be out there. Sedio concluded that, “JV is all about teaching them how to play college baseball, giving them broader coaching and adding to their experience level.”
These junior varsity Polar Bears are no scrubs either, outscoring their opponents 49-11 on the season. The next opportunity to check them out on campus will be with a pair of home games next week against Ohio Dominican (4/13) and Heidelberg (4/16). It’s all fun and games for this relaxed team now, but when these guys move up to varsity…Well, it’ll still be fun and games, just on a bigger stage. At least they’ll be ready.