MVNU Baseball Team Posts Another
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Despite a roster with limited previous playing experience and personnel, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team won the American Mideast Conference North Division title and advanced to the NAIA Region IX Tournament championship game as the Cougars finished 27-19 overall in 2003.
MVNU, whose roster of 20 players consisted of 11 players wearing the Cougars' blue and green uniforms for the first time, opened the season with six straight wins that included the first five games of the team's annual spring trip to the Gene Cusic Classic in Fort Myers, Florida. Then, after struggling through some injuries and dropping five of its next six games, MVNU closed out a 7-5 spring trip with a 3-1 win over Mount Mercy (Iowa) College.
Upon returning north, the Cougars went 3-4 over its next seven games including a 1-3 mark as the team began AMC North Division play. However, despite the slow start, MVNU bounced back to win 12 of its final 16 division games as the Cougars claimed their first-ever AMC North Division title with a 13-7 mark.
As the AMC North Division champion, MVNU received the top seed at the six-team double elimination NAIA Region IX Tournament in Chillicothe, Ohio. The Cougars downed Tiffin University (2-0), Malone College (7-3), and Point Park (Pa.) College (8-7 in 10 innings) to advance to the championship game for the fourth straight year.
After four days of rainouts and postponements, MVNU ended up hosting Ohio Dominican University, ranked 17th in the final NAIA national poll, in the championship game. The Panthers defeated the Cougars twice to earn their third straight region title as MVNU finished as the region runner-up for the fourth straight season.
"All things considered, we had an incredible year," said MVNU head coach Keith Veale, who earned his 450th victory with the Cougars on April 12 against Saint Vincent (Pa.) College. "Playing in the regional championship game for this club was a tremendous accomplishment. We were so thin with personnel that it limited what we could do. Offensively, we really struggled to score runs, and yet, we did a great job manufacturing enough to produce wins and a division title."
"We desperately need to add some internal competition for next season," Veale added. "I am confident we can do that. We have a nice nucleus of players returning, and with the addition of some quality recruits, we can build a club that can compete deeper into the postseason."
Individually, several players had outstanding seasons. Josh Sichina, the team's lone senior, wrapped up his stellar four-year career with the Cougars by posting a career-high .347 batting average. The third baseman also led the team with 41 RBI to go along with seven doubles, two triples, six home runs, and 28 runs scored.
"When I think of Josh, the thought of consistency comes to mind," said Veale. "I view consistency as the mark of a champion. Since Josh's arrival in our program, he has been a consistent performer. Through the years, his teammates and coaches have viewed Josh as someone to be counted on. He has put in the time and effort to be successful in the classroom, on the practice field, and in his relationships with his teammates. He has always been a team player."
Juniors Jon Barchus, Adam Rowe, Justin Clarey, Dan Matheney, Andy Dunn, Ryan Lucas, and Nate Rutkowski also provided valuable experience and leadership for MVNU. Barchus, a right-handed pitcher, was selected as the AMC North Division Pitcher of the Year after posting a 9-0 record on the mound with a 2.41 earned run average and 73 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings. He also posted one save as he became the program's all-time leader in that category with 13.
Rowe, a left-handed pitcher, was 5-4 on the mound with a 4:35 ERA and a team-high 80 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings in being named to the AMC North Division Team. He also batted .324 with 15 runs scored as he saw time in the outfield. Clarey, a catcher, batted .296 with 10 doubles, one triple, a team-high eight home runs, 10 runs scored, and 34 RBI as he joined Rowe on the AMC North Division Team.
Matheney, a shortstop, battled back from an early season injury to post a .307 batting average with three doubles, two home runs, 12 RBI, and 26 runs scored to earn AMC North Division Honorable Mention status. Matheney also struck out just one time in 101 at bats during the season including going his final 88 at bats without striking out.
Dunn and Lucas, both right-handed pitchers in their first season with the Cougars, saw plenty of action for the MVNU in 2003. Dunn was used primarily as a closer and posted a 3-2 record with one save and a team-best 1.59 ERA in 11 appearances. Lucas went 2-5 on the mound with a 7.76 ERA as he started nine games. Rutkowski, a first-year outfielder, batted .261 with five doubles, one home run, 11 RBI, and 23 runs scored.
The improvement and contributions of MVNU's returning sophomore class was a huge key in the success that the Cougars experienced in 2003. Outfielders Tim Martini and Brent Zimmerman along with first baseman Ty Dendinger posted a combined 23 at bats a year ago as freshmen. This year, Martini led the team with a .350 batting average, 13 doubles, and 36 runs scored. He also recorded three home runs and 32 RBI and was named to the AMC North Division Team. Zimmerman batted .224 with two doubles, 20 runs scored, and a team-high six stolen bases. Dendinger added a .302 batting average with nine doubles, one triple, two home runs, 23 RBI, and 22 runs scored.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Derek Morey also contributed heavily to the team's success as he stepped up his game in 2003. After tossing just eight innings as a freshman, Morey posted a 5-3 record with a 4.22 ERA as he started 10 games and worked 64 innings. He helped the Cougars clinch a berth in the NAIA Region IX Tournament with a win over Walsh University and also gave MVNU the AMC North Division title with a win over Point Park. He was an AMC North Division Honorable Mention pick.
Sophomore Carl Langley compiled a 1-2 record with a 5.02 ERA in his first year with the Cougars after transferring to MVNU. He also batted .279 with six doubles, three home runs, 17 RBI, and 17 runs scored.
Freshman Kyle Peters proved to be a versatile performer for the Cougars in his first collegiate season as he played three infield positions and rightfield as well as pitching in five games. Peters batted .294 with three doubles, three triples, one home run, 21 RBI, and 30 runs scored. He also went 2-2 on the mound and was an AMC North Division Honorable Mention selection.
Freshmen Andrew Thompson, an infielder, and Jeff Derr, a designated hitter, also added depth for the Cougars. Thompson batted .260 with five RBI and 17 runs scored, while Derr batted .279 with two doubles, six RBI, and three runs scored. Junior pitcher Brian Barrish, sophomore outfielder Shane Davis, freshman outfielder Mark Caudill, and freshman catcher Michael Grove rounded out the roster.
With a solid nucleus of players returning and the addition of several quality recruits, MVNU has laid the foundation for another successful campaign in 2004.