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Canfield’s Machuga was leader at ODU

Submitted photo Canfield graduate Joey Machuga had his senior season curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio Dominican baseball coach Christopher Antonides saw something in Joey Machuga before Machuga ever saw it in himself.

Machuga, a former Canfield standout, didn’t play much as a freshman at ODU. He really broke out as a sophomore when he was a first-team all-conference selection, but there was a moment during that freshman season when Antonides saw what was to come for Machuga.

Ohio Dominican was in a slugfest with Walsh University, tied at 16 in the 12th inning after the Panthers scored six times in the ninth to knot it up. The young Machuga stepped up and delivered a double down the left-field line to lead off the top of the 12th and went on to score the eventual game-winning run. It was the start of something special for the young third baseman.

“Joey played sparingly his freshman year,” Antonides said, “but the moment I realized he was here to stay was his double to lead off the 12th at Walsh. It was a never-say-never game, and he was determined to get us on top.”

He has done all he can to keep them there, too.

Machuga was a big part of the Panthers’ run to the Division II NCAA Midwest Regional championship game in 2018. He batted .348 that sophomore year and was second on the team in doubles (18) and RBIs (49).

Maybe of more importance were the players around him, especially the seniors, who showed Machuga what being part of a college baseball team was all about.

“My sophomore year I was surrounded with the best group of guys I’ve ever been around on a baseball field,” Machuga said. “Two of our guys that year got drafted early. I was just playing with some absolute dudes. I’m pretty sure everybody in our starting lineup got, if it wasn’t first-team all-conference, it was a conference award or conference honor.

“For me, it was being around that group of guys and finally playing with some confidence that sophomore year. That just transcended my entire career.”

He followed his sophomore campaign with a solid junior year.

Machuga hit .275 and was third on the team in RBIs with 44, good enough to be in the top 10 in the conference. What caught the eye of Antonides was the way Machuga began to lead. He was no longer looking to others to say or do the right thing at the right time. Machuga was the one filling the void left by several graduated players.

“That’s when his leadership skills took over,” Antonides said. “He would challenge the other guys and say, ‘Give us what you got. We’re going to give you ours, and we’re going to be fine.’ He built a lot of trust in other guys, his teammates, to be who they are and why they were recruited to be here. He had that confidence and some of that swag from experience, like, ‘We’ve had success as a program. It works, and I want to lead the way.’ ”

Ohio Dominican finished 32-23 last year, with Machuga as one of the team leaders.

They had winning seasons in all three of Machuga’s years there, and he was off to a hot start as a senior. He was hitting a team-best .362 with four doubles in 13 games before the season came to a halt because of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

With the season likely over, Machuga is in a difficult position. The NCAA is expected to grant an extra year of eligibility to all spring sports athletes, but Machuga is a senior double-major (mathematics and insurance and risk management) who already has a job lined up after the season ends.

He admits he’s about “50-50” on whether to leave or return, but either way, he is happy with his time at Ohio Dominican.

“Even if my career ends this way, I have no regrets,” he said. “I gave everything I could. It’s just sad I’m getting jipped out of 40 games. I was so excited to play and start conference (games), but I’m thankful that I don’t have any regrets.”

His coach couldn’t agree more.

Antonides admitted he “couldn’t say enough good things about Joey,” and lamented at how much he would miss having such a steady influence on the team. He also understands Machuga has a career to think about, and if his time with the baseball team is over, he is just as confident in Machuga the person as he is Machuga the player.

“He fulfilled his legacy of what we ask these guys to do when they’re recruited,” Antonides said. “It’s all about relationships, and he’s big on that, with his family and everything else. Those are some of his most powerful tools, being a relationship builder. I’ve had companies that have reached out and said, ‘Hey, tell me about this guy.’

“He’s doing insurance and risk management, and they’re coming out and asking for him, and some of those guys are alumni. He’s the one guy I’ve recommended because that’s what I think of him. He’s impressive.”