SSU’s Kline making early baseball impression

PORTSMOUTH — For most incoming recruits, the transition to the diamond with their newfound team and program can be a difficult one.

However, Akron native Jacob Kline mastered the transition more than most.

A sophomore at Shawnee State, Kline stepped right into the middle of the order for the Bears — and began producing at a stout level for Phil Butler’s program.

Kline, however, credits that success to the faith and trust that his coaches and teammates have had in him to produce from the outset.

“I have been very grateful and excited since I was given the opportunity to play here at Shawnee State,” Kline said. “I saw the culture that Phil (Butler) and Casey (Claflin) were building here at Shawnee State, and am enthused to contribute to that going forward. As for my teammates, I can’t say enough about them. The encouragement that we all give each other out on the field is a big difference maker. We have each other’s backs and are always try to pick each other up.”

At Ellet High School in the eastern portion of Akron, Kline starred against stout OHSAA Division I competition.

A scholar-athlete, Kline was named as an academic All-City honoree all four years, and hit .350 for his career en route to earning first-team All-City honors during multiple seasons of his baseball career.

During his senior season, Kline helped lead Ellet to a pair of postseason victories and an OHSAA Division I district semifinal appearance during the 2017 campaign, which marked the first time since 2003 that the Orangemen made a district semifinal appearance in the sport of baseball.

That accomplishment — in addition to Kline’s career .350 average, 14 doubles, 41 RBI and 65 runs scored — made the senior an ideal choice for the All-City Player of the Year honor, especially after finishing with a .375 average as a junior and improving to a strong .397 as a senior.

“I cherished my time playing baseball at Ellet,” Kline said. “It was such a special part of my life. I grew up wanting to be an Orangeman, and playing with my friends. The majority of our high school team all grew up and played together on our local travel team that my dad coached since I was 11 years old. Since we were so close to each other and had years worth of playing experience together, we quickly built our team chemistry to the point where it became second-nature in high school.”

In addition to his success as a high-schooler, Kline began to shoot up the charts as far as his height was concerned.

Originally just 5-2 as a freshman, the middle infielder grew to 5-10 by his junior year, and finally, to his present height of 6-3 by the time he graduated from Ellet.

His frame and playing ability ultimately led to an opportunity playing on Akron’s club baseball program, which was in place for hopefuls who planned to join Akron’s sponsored baseball program in 2020 — its first year back in official competition after the sport was dropped by the Zips’ athletic department following the 2014-15 academic year.

“Playing for Akron kept my love for the game alive,” Kline said. “I loved being able to go out and compete against other guys. Club sports are a great way for guys to keep up their love of the game and to get live game action and reps, which can be a premium in most cases. I ended up playing for them by getting in touch with them, because I wanted to get back into the swing of things in preparation for the university’s baseball program coming back.”

While playing in the middle of the order for Akron’s club unit, however, Kline developed a rapport with fellow Akron native Casey Claflin, who had made a similar move.

Claflin, a catcher on Akron’s sponsored team, transferred to SSU to finish his own playing career.

“It was great to get to know both of them during the recruiting process,” Kline said. “When I first met Casey, we had a lot in common both coming from Akron and transferring to Shawnee State for our baseball careers. Since we had the common ground and familiarity with our hometowns, it was easy to develop our relationship. When I first met Phil, I knew I was going to like his coaching style and professionalism towards the game. Both of them were very welcoming and answered all my questions and were a big part of me transferring to Shawnee State.”

Within two weeks, Kline committed to play for the Bears.

“They (Butler and Claflin) sold me on their confidence and belief in my abilities to contribute right away here at SSU,” Kline said. “I saw Shawnee State as the best opportunity for me to play, and to contribute the most to the team success.”

During his first season with the Bears, Kline proved that fact without question.

Through 20 games, the sophomore joined Ben Sellers as the only pair of players to play and start in each of Shawnee State’s 20 games during the 2020 season, and hit a solid .333 to finish second among everyday players in batting average.

Over his last six games, however, Kline went off on a ridiculous tear — going a masterful 14-of-22 from the plate (.636) with three extra base hits, five RBI and eight runs scored.

In addition to matching the team’s best marks for games played and started and finishing second in batting average, Kline also led the team in hits (22) and at-bats (66), finished second in runs scored (14), walks (11), slugging percentage (.470), on-base percentage (.436) and .OPS (.906), placed in a tie for third in doubles (four), and finished fourth on the unit in RBI.

“It felt fantastic to be an everyday starter after waiting my whole life to play college baseball,” Kline said. “I was determined that I was going to work as hard as I possibly could to become an everyday guy, and to contribute in ways that my coaches believed that I could. The confidence that Phil and Casey had in me, as well as my family’s and teammates’, pushed me to work so hard to become a starter and a key contributor to our team. I will continue to take nothing for granted, to work harder everyday to be stronger, and to build on what we started.”

Beyond his athletic experience, however, Kline’s also taken advantage of his courseload academically.

In the classroom, Kline holds a perfect 4.0 GPA as a business adminstration major and has 95 hours of academic credit to his name.

“My experience has been fantastic so far,” Kline said. “I loved the smaller school environment because you get to see people so often and it feels like a closer community. I’ve enjoyed the smaller class sizes and it being easier to gain professional knowledge for my career from my professors. They really care about you doing well and getting you career ready in the future. My experience as a player and as a student has been terrific.”

With a vast array of knowledge in the classroom and a spotless GPA to boot, Kline has certainly made the most of his beginning at Shawnee State.

However, Kline knows as well as anybody that the race comes down to how one finishes — not about how one starts.

“As a student-athlete, I want to continue to put the importance of my studies and grades at the top of my priority list, right along with athletics,” Kline said. “I hope to accomplish graduating with a high GPA, as well as being career ready for my future professional endeavors. I hope to maximize the resources available at Shawnee State to network and be ready to pursue my career after graduation. As an athlete, I wish to accomplish success here at SSU by winning our conference championship, and to make a run in the national tournament. I hope to continue to become a better teammate and leader for our team, and to always give 100 percent in any way to help our team reach our goals next season.”