The Mount Vernon Nazarene College baseball team will look to continue the programís winning tradition when the Cougars enter the 1999 season on the heels of a successful 37-12 campaign which saw the team claim their fourth consecutive Mid-Ohio Conference title and the programís ninth conference title overall.
"I was absolutely thrilled with the performance of this team last year," said tenth year head coach Keith Veale, who has posted a 296-134 overall record at MVNC. "We had a lot of transition to make and these guys responded. The results of last year should instill confidence in this yearís club, and confidence is a big factor in a teamís success."
Pitching and defense have long been symbols of MVNC baseball as evidenced by the fact that the Cougars finished the 1998 season ranked third in the NAIA in both earned run average (3.55) and fielding percentage (.964).
Joining Heimbach will be senior Jeremiah Armstrong and junior David Byard. Both right-handers joined Heimbach on the All-Conference First Team last season with Armstrong ranking 14th in the NAIA in strikeouts (10.29 per nine innings) and Byard finishing ninth in the NAIA in earned run average (2.21). In addition, senior Matt Triplett, junior John Freese, sophomores Reid Gerber and Nate Overholt, and freshmen Steve Waers, Kevin Kandra, and Aaron Holt will round out the pitching staff.
"A key factor that will help us this year is the return of our top three pitchers," said Veale. "Returning three All-Conference pitchers is huge. That gives us the opportunity to win every time they take the mound. Andy (Heimbach) and David (Byard) have been outstanding their first two years. They are on the verge of being etched in Cougar history as a couple of the best."
Defensively, MVNC returns its entire starting infield that turned 39 double plays last season. Senior first baseman Chris Iceman and junior third baseman Brian Sheets were both First Team All-Conference selections in 1998 after batting .353 and .388 respectively. They will be joined by the sophomore double play tandem of Scott Crawford (shortstop), an Honorable Mention All-Conference choice, and Jason Hall (second base). Junior Drue Gray and freshmen Mark Coulter and Jeremy English will also see action in the infield.
"Being strong up the middle defensively is such an asset to a pitching staff," Veale said. "I feel that this club has that strength as well. Scott (Crawford) and Jason (Hall) stepped in and were rock solid as freshmen. Add Brian (Sheets) and Chris (Iceman) at the corners and that is a solid infield unit."
"In my opinion, Chris is the best defensive first baseman in our schoolís history," added Veale. "Brian is solid defensively and is a great, great college hitter. We want him at the plate with the game on the line."
Senior Chris Stanifer, a Second Team All-Conference pick last year after batting .372 and stealing a team-high 27 bases, is the only returning starter in the Cougar outfield. Sophomores Jeff Wine and Matt Stryker, along with freshmen Josh Colley, Jon Wisecup, and Matt Alison, will all compete for the other starting positions.
"Having Chris (Stanifer) quarterbacking our outfield is a key defensively, and he is such an offensive catalyst," Veale said. "He is capable of manufacturing runs almost single-handedly."
Junior Jeff Lavin will move into the starting position behind the plate after playing in 25 games in 1998. Sophomore Joel Laslo will help share the catching duties.
"I am excited about our progress behind the plate," said Veale. "I think that Jeff (Lavin) and Joel (Laslo) are going to be very solid defensively. They bring some exceptional quickness and a level of confidence for our pitchers."
"Most of all, I just like this team," Veale added. "They are coming together nicely and learning to compete as a team. We have high goals and expectations."
MVNC was picked #18 in the NAIA preseason poll after finishing the 1998 season ranked #19, and Veale is primed to lead the Cougars to another successful season in 1999 and a run at the first-ever American Mideast Conference title. MVNC is scheduled to begin the season on Thursday, March 11, at Otterbein College in a nine-inning game with first-pitch slated for 3:30 p.m.
Following a scrimmage against Columbus State Community College on Saturday, March 13, MVNC will travel to Fort Myers, Florida, for the teamís annual spring trip. The Cougars are currently scheduled for 13 games but could play as many as 16 games.
*American Mideast Conference Games
+Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic (Fort Myers, FL)
#American Mideast Conference Tournament Games
@Great Lakes Region Tournament Games
%NCCAA National Tournament Games (at Indiana Wesleyan University)
$NAIA World Series (Palm Beach, FL)
|March 11||at Otterbein||Away||3:30 p.m.|
|March 18||+ vs. Marian (WI)||Away||5:00 p.m.|
|March 18||+ vs. Marian (WI)||Away||8:00 p.m.|
|March 19||+ vs. Baker (KS)||Away||4:00 p.m.|
|March 19||+ vs. Baker (KS)||Away||7:00 p.m.|
|March 20||+ vs. Wisconsin-Stout||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|March 20||+ vs. Bryant (RI)||Away||5:00 p.m.|
|March 22||+ vs. Middlebury (VT)||Away||10:00 a.m.|
|March 22||+ vs. Middlebury (VT)||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|March 23||+ vs. Northeastern (MA)||Away||2:00 p.m.|
|March 25||+ vs. St. John's (MN)||Away||10:00 a.m.|
|March 25||+ vs. St. John's (MN)||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|March 26||+ vs. Eastern Nazarene (MA)||Away||10:00 a.m.|
|March 26||+ vs. Embry-Riddle (FL)||Away||7:00 p.m.|
|March 30||* ST. VINCENT (PA)||Home||1:00 p.m.|
|March 30||* ST. VINCENT (PA)||Home||TBA|
|April 1||OHIO VALLEY (WV)||Home||3:30 p.m.|
|April 2||OHIO WESLEYAN||Home||3:30 p.m.|
|April 3||* at Rio Grande||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 3||* at Rio Grande||Away||TBA|
|April 5||at Point Park (PA)||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 5||at Point Park (PA)||Away||TBA|
|April 6||* CEDARVILLE||Home||1:00 p.m.|
|April 6||* CEDARVILLE||Home||TBA|
|April 8||FINDLAY||Home||3:30 p.m.|
|April 10||* at Ohio Dominican||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 10||* at Ohio Dominican||Away||TBA|
|April 13||* WALSH||Home||1:00 p.m.|
|April 13||* WALSH||Home||TBA|
|April 15||at Denison||Away||3:30 p.m.|
|April 17||* at Shawnee State||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 17||* at Shawnee State||Away||TBA|
|April 20||* URBANA||Home||1:00 p.m.|
|April 20||* URBANA||Home||TBA|
|April 22||* at Tiffin||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 22||* at Tiffin||Away||TBA|
|April 27||* at Malone||Away||1:00 p.m.|
|April 27||* at Malone||Away||TBA|
|April 29||WOOSTER||Home||4:00 p.m.|
|May 1||* GENEVA (PA)||Home||1:00 p.m.|
|May 1||* GENEVA (PA)||Home||TBA|
|May 3||KENYON||Home||4:00 p.m.|
|May 5-8||# AMC Tournament||TBA||TBA|
|May 13-15||@ NAIA or NCCAA Regional||TBA||TBA|
|May 20-22||% NCCAA National Tournament||Away||TBA|
|May 24-31||$ NAIA World Series||Away||TBA|