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ONU baseball looking to build on a successful 2023

By Wes Mayberry

The Ohio Northern baseball team had a highly successful 2023 season, posting the most wins since its 2018 campaign. The Polar Bears are looking to build off that achievement in 2024 with the return of several key players under 13th-year head coach Gene Stechschulte.

Northern went 12-6 in Ohio Athletic Conference play, qualified for the OAC Tournament as the No. 3 seed and finished with a 27-15 overall mark last season. With the return of fifth-year senior pitcher Jack Hutchins (Bright, Ind./East Central), who was named to the 2024 Preseason All-America Third Team, and four other All-OAC honorees from a year ago, the Polar Bears are poised for another great run in 2024.

"We are very excited to get started this season," Stechschulte said. "There is a large amount of our pitching depth coming back, so we are looking forward to seeing that progress. From a positional standpoint, there will be many new faces getting a chance to make an impact."


Hutchins finished the 2023 season with a 7-2 record and ranked third in the OAC with a 1.91 ERA. In 66 innings spanning 12 appearances, including nine starts, he racked up 59 strikeouts, which ranked ninth in the OAC. After the season, he was named to the All-America Fifth Team, All-Region 7 First Team, ABCA/Rawlings All-Region 7 Second Team and All-OAC First Team.

Hutchins has a career 4.25 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 27 appearances spanning 84.2 innings at ONU.

Junior Blake Altaffer (Montpelier) also returns to the pitching staff coming off a successful 2023 campaign. He finished the year with an 8-1 record and one save to go with a 2.19 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 11 appearances, including seven starts, spanning 53.1 innings. He tied for third in the OAC in wins and ranked fourth in ERA en route to being named to the All-OAC Second Team. He was also selected to the All-Region 7 Second Team and ABCA/Rawlings All-Region 7 Third Team.

"Jack and Blake will be two of the main leaders of our staff," Stechschulte said. "They accomplished some great things last year, and I think they have the mindset to take another step forward. Our pitching depth beyond them should also be a strength."

The remaining three 2023 All-OAC honorees returning to the roster are senior Logan Stevens (Plain City/Jonathan Alder), junior Andrew Stechschulte (Findlay) and sophomore Chase Armstrong (Louisville, Ky./Trinity).

"Logan, Andrew and Chase really started to come into their own last year," Stechschulte said. "They will be looked at to raise their level of play, which will help to bring along some of the other guys that are getting their first major chances."

Stechschulte was an All-OAC First Team pick last season after posting a .238 batting average with eight doubles, one triple, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and eight steals in 37 games, including 35 starts. As the team's primary catcher, he recorded a .982 fielding percentage and .489 caught-stealing percentage, throwing out 23 of 47 base-stealers.

In 45 career games, Stechschulte has a .233 batting average with nine doubles, 16 RBIs and 21 runs.

Armstrong was named to the All-OAC Second Team following a breakout freshman season in 2023. He led ONU in batting average (.360), runs (35) doubles (11) and home runs (10) to go with 26 RBIs and eight steals. He had three multi-homer games on the year and tied for third in the OAC in home runs.

Stevens was an All-OAC Honorable Mention pick a year ago after finishing with a .306 batting average and leading the team in hits (52) and RBIs (35) to go with seven doubles, two triples, seven home runs and 26 runs.

In 103 games at ONU, Stevens is a career .281 hitter with 105 hits, 17 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, 79 RBIs and 63 runs. He enters 2024 just four home runs shy of breaking into the program's top 10 list in that category.

Other key returners include junior Joey Kennedy (Sterling Heights, Mich./Foley Catholic) and sophomore Robbie Reed (Goshen, Ky./Trinity) in the field as well as a trio of pitchers in senior Noah Truax (Lewis Center/Bishop Watterson) and juniors Vaughn Duncan (Springfield) and Blake Peterson (Belle Center/Benjamin Logan).

Kennedy batted .276 last season with three doubles, 12 RBIs and 27 runs to go with 15 steals, which tied for ninth-best in the OAC. In 58 games at ONU, he is a .289 career hitter with 17 RBIs and 40 runs while converting 25 of his 29 steal attempts.

Reed ranked third on the team with 28 RBIs in 2023 to go with a .232 average, five doubles, one home run, 25 runs and four steals.

Duncan posted a 2.55 ERA with 23 strikeouts and an OAC-best seven saves last season. Peterson was 3-0 with a 3.62 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 13 appearances, including five starts. Truax tallied 30 strikeouts in 11 appearances, including seven starts.

The remaining returning lettermen include seniors Kaidan Domer (Orrville), Austin Hunter (Canal Fulton/Northwest) and Corey Jeanor (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and juniors Jack Ballas (Strongsville), Brady Corbitt (Plain City/Jonathan Alder), Sam Harrison (Perrysburg/St. Francis DeSales), Hunter Kauser (Paulding), Sam Sells (Lewis Center/Olentangy Orange), Joe Tootle (Powell/Olentangy Liberty) and Elliott Veenstra (Findlay/Liberty-Benton).

The Polar Bears open their 2024 season with a three-game series at Asbury (Ky.) on March 2-3 followed by their annual spring break trip to Florida during the week of March 9-17. The team's home opener is March 21 against Denison followed by its OAC opener on March 23 with a doubleheader against Baldwin Wallace. The regular season concludes with an OAC doubleheader at home against Heidelberg on May 4.

The 2024 OAC Tournament is scheduled for May 9-11.

"Our schedule will be the most challenging that we have seen since I have been here," Stechschulte said. "We are facing many regional and nationally ranked teams, especially early in the year. Those tests will help us get prepared for the rigors of the OAC schedule."