Cougars Ready for New Challenges in 2012
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (3-1-2012) - The Mount
Vernon Nazarene University baseball team is
looking forward to attacking new challenges
when the 2012 season gets under way.
After having 20 returners on their
roster a year ago when the team posted a
32-21 overall record, won the American
Mideast Conference Tournament for the second
straight season, and advanced to the NAIA
National Championship Opening Round again,
the Cougars return just 12 players who were
part of that success. In fact, after
carrying 27 players a year ago, the Cougars
have just 21 players on the roster as the
season gets ready to start this week.
"This team is a much different team from
a year ago," said MVNU coach Keith Veale,
who enters his 23rd year leading the Cougars
to a combined 741-375 record (.664 winning
percentage) and a berth in the NAIA
postseason in 21 of his 22 seasons. "We have
a number of unproven commodities, but we
believe we will have enough talent to
compete. It is a smaller roster than in
recent years, but there is a significant
amount of flexibility in those numbers."
MVNU has a mixture of experience and
unknowns on the mound as the Cougars head
into the season. Leading the way will be
senior right-hander Kyle Barr, who is poised
to cap off a solid career as one of the top
pitchers in program history with another
outstanding campaign. Barr was the AMC
Pitcher of the Year in 2011 after posting an
8-2 record with a 2.32 ERA, one save, two
shutouts, six complete games, and 93
strikeouts in 81.1 innings. He has posted a
19-9 career record with a 3.79 career ERA
and 201 strikeouts in 199.1 innings of work.
"Kyle has led our staff for the past two
years," said Veale. "He has emerged as a
legitimate No. 1 pitcher at the NAIA level.
We expect him to continue to excel during
his senior season to cap off a tremendous
career at MVNU."
Slated to join Barr
in the starting four-man rotation as the
season gets under way are senior
right-hander Jerrob Decker, junior lefty
Justin Brown, and junior right-hander Darren
Athey. Decker posted a 4-5 record with a
4.53 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 53.2 innings
of work as he made 10 starts a year ago.
Brown posted a 1-0 record with a 1.80 ERA as
he served as a setup man with 10 appearances
out of the Cougars' bullpen, while Athey
went 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA and six saves as
the team's closer.
"Jerrob is another
hard-thrower who showed some good strides a
year ago," said Veale. "He has been throwing
well in the preseason, and he is also poised
to finish his career with his best season
yet. Justin gives us a different look from
the left side. He continues to make solid
progress. If he stays consistent, he could
easily fit into our conference rotation. We
are most likely transitioning Darren from
the closer role into the starting rotation.
He has one of our better arms and we want to
make use of that by getting him more work."
Senior right-hander Jeff Estep (2-1,
3.24 ERA), sophomore right-hander Seth Eller
(0-0, 9.00 ERA), sophomore Mike Kochheiser
(0-0, 3.52 ERA), freshman lefty Cameron
Juhasz, freshman right-hander Kenny
McCambridge, and sophomore right-hander
Corey Kubbs will round out the pitching
staff for the Cougars and each will be
counted on to contribute to the team's
"Jeff has had some good game
experience in the past," said Veale. "He has
the ability to start or work out of the
bullpen. He competes well on the mound and
could even see work in the closing role. We
are looking for significant contributions
from Seth. We recruited him to pitch a year
ago, but we needed his contributions with
the bat and his pitching sort of took a back
seat. We are looking forward to him being a
more active contributor on the mound this
spring. Mike has really made some progress
this offseason. He has worked extremely hard
to develop on the mound, and we believe he
has. If he can have success early on, I
think he will just take off."
adds another lefty to our staff," Veale
continued. "He is learning quickly, and we
believe he will contribute this season. He
can throw multiple pitches for strikes and
is another guy who we are comfortable with
as a starter and in relief. Kenny is a very
good athlete and will compete on the mound
and is also in the mix on the infield. We
are trying to allow either or both to
happen. He can be a significant contributor
on the mound as the season wears on. Corey
is making the transition from positional
player to being on the mound. He is making
strides and will be looked at to provide
depth out of the bullpen. Together as a
staff, we will have to try to identify some
roles early in the season."
Josh Roberts returns at first base after
posting a .380 batting average and leading
the team in hits (70), runs (43), doubles
(18), home runs (4), and RBI (35) last year.
He also committed just seven errors in 382
chances at first base defensively and was a
named to the AMC Second Team. Eller, who
posted a .349 batting average with 11
doubles, 31 RBI, and 36 runs scored as the
team's designated hitter last year, will
serve as Roberts' back-up.
been outstanding both at the plate and in
the field," said Veale of Roberts, who has a
.387 career batting average and ranks fourth
in school history with 842 putouts. "He is
one of the better defensive first basemen we
have had here. He helps get outs around the
bag, and our infielders have tremendous
confidence throwing across the diamond.
Offensively, he will hit in the No. 3 spot.
He has been as consistent offensively as
anyone we have had in the past few years."
"Seth has improved tremendously on
defense since his arrival as a freshman,"
said Veale. "He hits in the middle of our
order and gives us solid at bats game in and
game out. If not in the defensive lineup, he
is the logical choice as our designated
hitter once again."
Estep, who batted
.250 in 32 at bats last year, McCambridge,
and redshirt freshman Sterling Harpst will
each compete for playing time at second base
where the starting spot is up for grabs.
Estep has the most experience, but preseason
surgery has slowed his pursuit of the
"If healthy, Jeff can
provide some competitive at bats and veteran
leadership to the infield," said Veale.
"Sterling is also a tough defensive player
who provides a good understanding of the
position. Kenny had a very good fall season
for us that has provided him the opportunity
to also be a strong consideration to get the
nod. He has some good baseball instincts and
is ready to step in."
Jordan Doherty returns at shortstop where he
started all 53 games and posted a .293
batting average with 31 runs scored and 19
RBI. He also led the team with 21 stolen
bases - the most by an MVNU player since the
1999 season. McCambridge would be the
primary backup at the position.
"Jordan has been playing at a very high
level this offseason," said Veale. "He is an
exceptional talent and has really benefitted
from significant playing time his first two
years. He can make the outstanding plays
defensively and is a catalyst offensively as
well. Kenny will be our first option as a
backup at shortstop. He has the arm strength
and range to play the position."
Sophomore Jeff Stone returns at third base
after batting .326 with 12 RBI in 32 games
last year. McCambridge and Estep could also
both see time at the position, and Roberts
could even slide over to play third base
with Eller playing first base.
(Stone) ended up winning the position a year
ago," said Veale. "He has become a steady
defensive player. He adds balance to our
lineup offensively by swinging from the left
side. He has some pop in his bat and can
definitely pound the gaps for us. Kenny has
experience at third base and would add to
the offense from the right side of the
plate. He has the quickness and arm strength
to play on the left side of the infield.
Jeff (Estep) is an option if he is not on
the mound or at second base. We have also
experimented with moving Josh to third base
and letting Seth hold down the first base
The starting catcher spot is
up for grabs with sophomore Greg Travis and
freshmen Clint Spencer and Kevin Chaffin
each vying for time behind the dish. Travis
batted .214 and made four starts a year ago
for the Cougars.
"Catching is another
wide open position," said Veale. "We have
seen tremendous improvements in our catching
core. They are a solid throwing group with a
lot of responsibility coordinating the
pitching staff and defense. Greg has thrown
the ball well in the fall and has taken on
the role of leading from behind the plate.
Clint has been solid defensively for us. He
is really progressing during the offseason
with the bat. We like his potential, and he
will have some opportunities this year.
Kevin is a nice receiver and provides a
calm, steady influence behind the plate. He,
too, is showing nice development with the
Playing time in the outfield is
wide open with sophomore Sean Fleming (.209
batting average) the only returning player
with any experience after he played in 46
games last year with 23 starts. Sophomore
transfer Robert Kane, redshirt freshmen
Andrew Fila and Jake Dickerson, and Eller
and McCambridge could all see action in the
outfield for the Cougars.
some good competition for the outfield spots
and time will tell where we end up with each
spot," said Veale. "We are still trying to
find the best unit out there, and we do have
some flexibility with left-handed and
right-handed hitters. Sean got a fair amount
of playing time last year as a freshman due
to injuries. He can play all three of the
outfield positions and that is a valuable
asset as we try to formulate the best
combination. He is probably our best option
in the leadoff spot offensively, and that is
"Robert is a primary option
in either centerfield or leftfield, and he
is an outstanding defensive outfielder who
can really go and get the baseball," Veale
continued. "He finished strong offensively
in the fall and could fit nicely in the No.
2 spot or down in the order. Andrew and Jake
both swing from the right side and can allow
us to switch things up if we are looking to
get more right-handed bats in the lineup.
Andrew runs well and will help us on the
bases, while Jake can provide power to our
lineup. Most likely, we will try a few
different looks early in the season and
align our outfield from those early results.
We may run a couple of our primary
infielders into the outfield if the need
arises or if we need to find a way to get
another bat into the lineup."
Cougars are slated to open the season with a
pair of non-conference home doubleheaders
against Ohio Christian University and the
University of Northwestern Ohio, which
received a vote in the NAIA preseason poll.
Then, MVNU will jump right into the thick of
Mid-Central College Conference play as the
Cougars make the switch from the AMC to the
MCC this year. MVNU will play each MCC team
in a home and away doubleheader with 36
conference games making up the majority of
the team's schedule this year starting with
four games against NAIA No. 25 Taylor (Ind.)
University, the defending conference
champion. Huntington (Ind.) University,
Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, Marian
(Ind.) University, Bethel (Ind.) College,
Indiana Wesleyan University, Grace (Ind.)
College, Goshen (Ind.) College, and the
University of Saint Francis (Ind.) will also
each compete with the Cougars for the MCC
MVNU will also
play 10 games on the team's annual spring
trip to Florida with most of the action
taking place in the Lakeland area this year.
MVNU will face Mount Marty (S.D.) College,
Florida Christian College, and perennial
power Warner (Fla.) University in
doubleheaders with single games against
Valley Forge Christian (Fla.) College, NCAA
Division II receiving votes Wayne State
(Mich.) College, Hillsdale (Mich.) College,
and Southeastern (Fla.) University, which
also received votes in the NAIA preseason
"This should be an exciting
season," said Veale. "We are looking forward
to competing in our new conference. Many of
the teams we have played before, but playing
each of them in a four-game set will
definitely add a new dimension to the
competition. The schedule is packed full of
conference games with only two
non-conference doubleheaders and our spring
trip as the only contests outside of
conference play. These are solid baseball
programs with experienced coaches. Being the
new kids in town, I'm sure we will get
everyone's best effort."