NewsNationally Ranked Cougars Look to Build on Success in 2005
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Fresh off a fifth-place finish at the NAIA World Series, the program’s eleventh conference title, and a 41-19 overall record, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team returns 18 players as the Cougars will look to continue their winning tradition when the 2005 season gets under way.
"Building on last year’s accomplishments is a real strength,” said MVNU head coach Keith Veale, who enters his 16th season with the Cougars having led the program to a 506-234 mark with six conference championships, four National Christian College Athletic Association national titles, and the school’s only two NAIA World Series berths. "We know what the goal is, and we have lots of experience and players who know how to win.”
Pitching will once again be a strength for MVNU as the Cougars, who are ranked ninth in the NAIA preseason poll, return three frontline starters and five other pitchers who have contributed to the team in their careers. Junior right-hander Nick Schwartz will headline the rotation after posting a 9-5 record with a team-best 2.51 ERA and 92 strikeouts. Schwartz, who was named to the NAIA World Series All-Tournament Team after tossing a shutout against Jamestown (N.D.) College, kept MVNU in every game he pitched as the Cougars scored a combined total of just two runs in his five losses.
"Nick established himself last year as an upper echelon pitcher at this level,” said Veale of the AMC South Division First Team pick in 2004. "He can dominate a game, and he has the durability to go the distance every time out.”
Senior Jon Barchus also returns after sitting out the 2004 season with an injury. The right-hander was named to the NAIA All-American Second Team and selected as the AMC North Division Pitcher of the Year in 2003 after posting a 9-0 record with a 2.41 ERA.
"We are excited to have Jon back,” said Veale. "He provides another quality pitcher who we know can give us the opportunity to win. In addition to his ability on the mound, he is also one of the team’s leaders off the field.”
Joining Schwartz and Barchus in the starting rotation will be sophomore Mike Laughlin. The righthander made quite an impact in his first college season as he posted an 8-2 record with a 3.97 ERA and a team-high three shutouts. In addition to tying the school’s freshman win record, he also notched the team’s other victory at the NAIA World Series against William Penn (Iowa) University.
"Mike had an outstanding freshman year, and he provides a third starter with potentially dominating stuff,” said Veale. "We look for him to only get better as his career unfolds.”
Competing for the fourth, fifth, and sixth starter spots will senior Derek Morey (RHP), sophomore Ryan Decker (RHP), freshman Brandon Turner (LHP), junior transfer Jason McIntosh (RHP), and freshmen Dave Yost (RHP) and Jason Barber (RHP). Morey (2-3 with a 4.15 ERA) and Decker (1-1 with a 5.40 ERA) each started games for the Cougars in 2004, while McIntosh spent two years at Anderson (Ind.) University. Turner posted an 8-0 record as a senior at Valley High School in earning All-State honors, and Yost was a three-time All-Conference First Team selection at Poland Seminary High School. Barber also went 7-1 as a senior at Canal Winchester High School and was a two-time All-Conference First Team pick.
Senior Carl Langley (RHP), junior Kyle Peters (RHP), sophomores Bobby Shaw (RHP) and Jake Poole (LHP), and freshman Jeremiah Valentine (RHP) will most likely work out of the bullpen. Langley enters the season as the team’s closer after posting a 1-0 record with one save last year and performing well in that role during the fall. Peters, the team’s closer last season, compiled a 3-0 record with four saves, while Shaw saw action in two games. Poole will be making his college debut after a successful career at Wadsworth High School, and Valentine helped Canal Winchester High School to back-to-back conference titles.
"As a whole, the pitching staff is deeper than any of our staffs in recent years,” said Veale. "The top part of the rotation will be one of this team’s strengths. The middle of the rotation is uncertain, but there are numerous options. After a successful fall, we think Carl (Langley) is ready for the closer’s role, and that it is a role in which he can flourish.”
Handling the pitching staff and the catching duties behind the plate will be sophomores Ray McFerren and Ari Yoder, junior Jeff Derr, and freshman Richey Burgos. "Ray provides a solid defensive receiver who our pitchers love throwing to,” said Veale. "He possesses a strong throwing arm to control the opponent’s running game. Richey, Jeff, and Ari are also viable options and all have certain strengths. Jeff and Ari shared some time last year due to their offensive contributions.”
The Cougars have experience, versatility and depth on the infield with several players competing for playing time at each position. At first base, Langley, senior Ty Dendinger, Burgos, and Barber are all options for the starting job with Langley leading the way following a strong fall performance. Langley batted .296 with four home runs and 31 RBI last year, while Dendinger started 33 games as he fought through injuries. Burgos, who helped lead his team to consecutive regional titles in Puerto Rico, and Barber, who may prove to be the best of the group defensively, will add depth at the position.
There are a number of options for MVNU at second base with sophomore Zack Helm, Peters, senior Tim Martini, and freshman Joèl Torres all vying for the starting spot. Helm is coming off an outstanding fall and is playing with a lot of confidence, while Peters was the starting second baseman for the Cougars in 2003 as a freshman. Martini missed the fall season with an injury but may move in from the outfield, while Torres possesses quality bat speed and running speed that compliment the offense well. "The consistency of this group defensively will be critical for our team’s success,” said Veale.
Senior Chris McKinney returns to anchor the infield at shortstop after starting in a school-record 59 games in 2004 while batting .338 with 45 RBI and 38 runs scored an his way to being named to the AMC South Division First Team and the NAIA World Series All-Tournament Team. "Chris entered the program a year ago and has already been a vital contributor,” said Veale. "He has been slowed by off-season surgery, but he should be ready for the season. He is a gifted defensive player, who makes all the routine plays at shortstop. He provides an added bonus by hitting in the middle of our lineup and being a quality run-producer.” Peters and Helm will provide depth at shortstop if needed.
Burgos, Helm, and Peters, who was named to the AMC South Division Second Team in 2004, will also figure into the playing equation at third base with Burgos serving as the primary option. "Richey is solid defensively and will become a significant contributor offensively,” said Veale. "Zack is probably most comfortable at third base, and he has good range and a strong throwing arm. Kyle played third for us last year, and he is still considered a great option if the overall team defense dictates that he play there.”
In the outfield, senior Steve Edwards leads a group of eight players who are battling for the three starting positions. Edwards returns to centerfield and the top part of the MVNU batting order after compiling a .345 batting average with 33 RBI and 35 runs scored while earning an AMC South Division First Team selection in 2004. Martini, who started in leftfield in 2004 and batted .287, provides solid defense and game experience, while senior Nate Rutkowski batted .282 and played in 48 games with 21 starts. Peters has been used sparingly in the outfield up to this point, but he may move there to open up some infield options for others. His arm strength and consistent offensive contributions will make that transition possible. Senior Brent Zimmerman is another experienced outfielder who covers a lot of ground, and he led the team with 10 stolen bases in 2004 while batting .308. Redshirt freshman Garret Shively, Turner and freshman Marc Hadley are all talented first-year players who can be called upon in a variety of situations.
"We do have lots of depth both on the mound and in the playing positions,” said Veale. "Our ability to accept roles and compete as a team will be a significant challenge for this team.”
The Cougars were scheduled to open the season with a non-conference game at Denison University, who is ranked 29th in NCAA Division III, on March 8, but that game has already been postponed. Following a doubleheader against Ohio State University-Newark at home on March 10, MVNU will head to Fort Myers, Florida, where the team is scheduled to play 13 games at the Gene Cusic Classic in an 11-day span. While in Florida, the Cougars will take on the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), ranked third in NCAA Division III, and St. Thomas (Fla.) University, who received votes in the NAIA preseason poll.
Upon returning north, the Cougars will play non-conference games against Ohio Wesleyan University, Malone College, NCAA Division I Wright State University, and the College of Wooster, who is ranked 12th in NCAA Division III.
MVNU will also look to defend its AMC South Division title as the Cougars play four games each against Ohio Dominican University (NAIA #23), the University of Rio Grande, Shawnee State University, Cedarville University, Tiffin University, and Urbana University.
With a tough schedule ahead, MVNU hopes that the competition will once again prepare the team for a run deep into the postseason as the Cougars set their sights on earning a return trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.