Team prepares Keene State College underclassmen for future varsity playing time
It may still be too soon to judge the new junior varsity baseball team, but after their first full season all signs point to success.
“The team’s been awesome, they’ve just been great,” assistant coach Jeff Pelkey said. “They work hard, they love playing the game and they don’t care what level [they play in].”
Pelkey, along with fellow assistant coaches Kyle Morill and Tim Thiesing, have assumed coaching duties for the JV team. They led the team to a 6-4-1 final record and say the guys have made major strides this season.
After graduating nine seniors last year, head coach Ken Howe knew his team would be young.
The late decision to add a JV team to his program posed a couple of problems for the coach. But early roster (how many spots to add?) and scheduling (who to play?) questions eventually fell into place.
They moved from a 40 to a 55-man roster and pieced together enough of a schedule (LEC teams Southern Maine and Eastern Connecticut State also have JV teams) to play eleven games.
“I think it’s great,” freshman catcher Ian Schoonmaker said. “It just gives more guys an opportunity to play.”
This isn’t the first time coach Howe has decided to create a JV team.
KSC used one for a stretch in the 1990’s before Howe discontinued it ten years ago.
Since then the coach who just finished his 28th season with the Owls never felt it would help his program enough to bring it back.
But going into the year the coaching staff knew they had too many underclassmen for too few roster spots.
In adding a JV team they saw an opportunity to give more of their players a chance to develop their game.
“In years past, you’d have a lot of kids who weren’t quite ready to play at the varsity level,” Pelkey said.
“But by the time they’re upper-classmen they’re going to need to help us out so we want to get them game experience.”
For the former KSC four-year starter Pelkey, coaching means balancing the priorities of winning the game but also developing players.
He explained that he coaches JV differently than varsity.
“[At the varsity level] there’s a little bit more of a ‘win every game’ mentality whereas the JV team’s point is just getting guys innings pitched and at bats,” Pelkey said.
The team seems to be serving its purpose.
Pelkey said he has seen major improvements in his players.
“For batters, you can see it in their timing and their ability to hit breaking balls,” Pelkey said.
“For pitchers, they’ve gotten better at just throwing strikes and throwing breaking balls for strikes.”
The players’ improvements highlight the importance of the added roster spots.
With a limited amount of space on the team, sometimes guys get cut who turn out to be great baseball players. More spots means more chances to reap the benefits of a late-blooming talent.
But this season showed that most players are ready to help varsity baseball right now.
That’s big on a JV team where Pelkey estimates 40 percent of its players will get significant playing time with the A-squad next year.
So after one full season, all the members of the coaching staff seem to think the JV team will be returning next year.
“I think the JV program has been going great and I think it’s only going to keep improving,” Pelkey said.
“I’d say it’s definitely here to stay, I just couldn’t ask for a better group of kids.”
Zach Winn can be contacted