When baseball season began, Norwin shortstop J.J. Matijevic wasn’t fond of the new BBCOR bats, now mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The sophomore wasn’t feeling the same “pop” the old bats had, making the new ones react similar to wooden bats.
“I hated the bat at first,” he said. “I’d rather hit with a wooden bat. I’m getting used to the new one. It’s taken some time.”
He’s up to speed now. In his past three games, Matijevic went 12 for 14 with four doubles, three home runs and 17 RBI for the Tribune-Review’s top-ranked Class AAAA team.
“In batting practice, you don’t see the ball jump off the bat. But against live pitching, it’s jumping off better,” coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “The one good thing I like about J.J. is he’s hitting the ball the other way, and he hasn’t gotten into the trap where he’s hit some home runs and he’s trying to pull everything over the right-field fence.”
Like every high school baseball player in the country, Matijevic had no choice but to accept the bat changes. So with encouragement from his teammates, he adapted �” and now opposing teams are playing the price.
“I don’t know if we expected this, but we knew he’d do well,” Liebdzinski said. “To think that he’d be off to this good of a start is not necessarily extremely realistic. We knew he’d hit either third or fourth for us as a sophomore in a pretty good lineup, so we expected pretty big things.”
Matijevic, who is hitting .576, is batting cleanup behind senior catcher Max McDowell, one of six players on the team who have signed with Division I schools.
Matijevic already has caught the attention of some D-I programs.
“My main goal is to play Division I baseball,” said Matijevic, adding that his senior college-bound teammates have been crucial to his development. “I’ve become a better player because of them. (Second baseman) Cam Onderko has helped with my fielding, and Max has helped with my hitting.”
Before the season, Liebdzinski said he talked to the seniors about taking the younger players under their wings.
“J.J is a good player, and he’s kind of found his place with that group, knowing that they’re good players,” Liebdzinski said.
“He just fits in. He doesn’t look at himself as a guy that is younger, and he doesn’t see himself as he’s above anyone else. It’s a nice mix.
In the past three games, the Knights have outscored opponents, 49-5. Matijevic has been a big reason why.
“Someone asked me if I was worried that teams might not pitch to J.J.,” Liebdzinski said. “If you don’t, you have a Nick Kolat behind him, who hit .550 last year, and behind him is Jake Pribanic, who is going to Penn State.