NewsStrong Finish Propels MVNU to Region Title Game Again
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
The season got off to a great start as the Cougars posted a 16-3 non-conference victory over Capital University to open the year. However, over the next six games, MVNU suffered five losses as the Cougars record stood at 2-5 as they went 1-5 to start their annual spring trip to Fort Myers, Florida. The team went 4-3 over the remainder of its trip to stand at 6-8 when MVNU returned north.
At that point, the Cougars won five of their next six contests to improve to 11-9 overall and get off to a successful 3-1 start in the American Mideast Conference South Division. However, a four-game sweep at the hands of eventual AMC South Division champion Ohio Dominican University saw MVNU’s record move to 11-13.
Over the remainder of the regular season, the Cougars went 11-6 to improve to 22-19 overall heading into the postseason. MVNU also secured the fourth and final spot in the AMC South Division with a 13-11 conference mark.
In the AMC Best-of-Three Qualifier series at Ohio Dominican, the Cougars bounced back from a 9-2 loss in the opening game to win 6-5 and 6-4 to eliminate the top-seeded Panthers and advance to the NAIA Region IX Tournament for the seventh straight year.
MVNU opened the four-team NAIA Region IX Tournament with a 9-6 loss to host and top-seeded Seton Hill (Pa.) University. However, the Cougars battled their back through the loser’s bracket with elimination wins over Urbana University and Malone College to set up a rematch with the Griffins.
MVNU knocked off Seton Hill 6-4 to force a second championship game as the Cougars played in the region title game for the seventh straight year. However, the Griffins used a home run in the top of the ninth inning to pull out a 2-1 victory and end MVNU’s season one game away from a berth in the NAIA World Series with a 27-22 final record.
"This was a challenging year,” said MVNU head coach Keith Veale, who improved to 564-273 in 16 seasons at the helm of the Cougars. "We had high expectations as always entering the season. We felt like our talent pool was good enough to win and do some great things. Talent gives you a chance, but we still had to execute and play well to experience success on the field. We never really got on a roll, but I felt like our team still believed in its ability to perform at a high level.”
"That high level performance did not take place until the postseason, which was encouraging to see,” Veale added. "We had another solid postseason run, and it was great to see us playing our best baseball at the end of the year. Playing in the regional championship game for the seventh year in a row is a phenomenal accomplishment. We had outstanding senior leadership, which will lay a foundation for next year and on down the road.”
Individually, the Cougars were led by three seniors, who wrapped up their careers in 2006. Shortstop/pitcher Kyle Peters played in all 49 games for MVNU and batted .339 with 12 doubles, one home run, 42 runs scored, and 25 RBI. On the mound, he compiled a 6-3 record with six complete games and a team-best 3.19 ERA. Peters finishes his stellar four-year career ranked third in at bats (677) and walks (96), fourth in assists (420), fifth in games played (198), and seventh in hits (229) and runs scored (171).
Right-handed pitcher Nick Schwartz finished off his solid career by posting a 6-4 record on the mound with two shutouts and a 3.29 ERA. He tossed a team-high 79 1/3 innings and struck out a team-best 75 batters while issuing just 23 walks. For his career, Schwartz ranks third in strikeouts (256), fifth in innings pitched (277 1/3) and shutouts (5), and seventh in victories (24).
Left-handed pitcher Jake Poole closed out his career by going 1-3 on the mound with a 5.19 ERA and a team-leading six saves. He led the team with 15 appearances - all in relief - and struck out 11 batters in 17 1/3 innings. Poole closes his career with seven saves to rank fifth in school history in that category in just two seasons on the team.
Sophomore third baseman Richey Burgos put together another outstanding season for the Cougars as he was among the team leaders in nearly every offensive category including a team-best .398 batting average as he played in all 49 games. He compiled 11 doubles, seven home runs, 35 runs scored, and 46 RBI.
Junior outfielder Eddie Smith also played in all 49 games in his first season at MVNU after transferring in from Columbus State Community College. He batted .351 with 10 doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 38 runs scored, and 50 RBI. He also stole a team-high seven bases.
Junior first baseman/catcher Ari Yoder compiled a .354 batting average over 48 games with four doubles, one triple, 31 runs scored, 24 RBI, and six stolen bases. Junior infielder/designated hitter Zack Helm batted .305 with 31 RBI and 37 runs scored, while junior outfielder Garret Shivley batted .200 and scored 16 runs. Junior catcher Ray McFerren was also batting .300 over the first eight games before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Freshman infielder Josh Estep had a solid rookie season by batting .338 in 44 games with 12 doubles, five home runs, 28 RBI, and 41 runs scored. Meanwhile, freshman catcher Bobby Deppe posted a .327 batting average in 37 games with seven doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 14 RBI.
Sophomore outfielders Marc Hadley and Brandon Turner batted .325 and .307 respectively with Hadley driving in 12 runs and Turner posting 32 RBI. Freshman outfielder Casey Garland hit .283 in 34 games with six doubles, three home runs, 21 RBI, and 18 runs scored, and freshmen Adam Knight, Chad Jewell, and Nick Martindale also saw action throughout the season.
Junior right-hander Mike Laughlin posted a 3-3 record on the mound with a 6.45 ERA as he struck out an amazing 65 batters in 44 2/3 innings with opponents hitting just .222 against him. Freshman right-hander Jason Decker was also impressive in his first college campaign as he went 4-1 with a 6.52 ERA in nine relief appearances.
Hadley posted a 2-0 record on the mound with both wins coming on the same day at the NAIA Region IX Tournament as he helped keep the Cougars’ season alive by throwing 9 2/3 innings over two games. Junior right-hander Ryan Decker posted a 2-3 record with a 7.74 ERA as he made eight starts for MVNU. Meanwhile, sophomore right-hander Jason Barber (0-1, 5.57 ERA), sophomore right-hander Dave Yost (2-3, 6.75 ERA), and sophomore lefty Turner (1-0) joined freshmen Kevin George, Angel Feliciano, and Estep and junior Jason McIntosh to round out the bullpen.
With a quality group of returning players and a good recruiting class coming in, MVNU will look to continue its winning ways and make a return trip to the NAIA Region IX Tournament in 2007.