Coming off a 40-15 season that included winning an unprecedented fifth National Christian College Athletic Association national title, the MVNC baseball team will look to continue its winning tradition in the 2000 season.
"We are anxious to get started," said head coach Keith Veale, who is entering his eleventh season as the Cougars' skipper with a 336-149 overall record (.693 winning percentage). "We feel like we can compete not just for a conference championship, but we also have the potential to do some damage deep into the postseason."
"We have perhaps as much depth as any team in Cougar history," Veale added. "The internal competition is intense and closely contested, which will cause our front line players to keep their level of performance at or close to the peak of their abilities."
MVNC is armed with a veteran pitching staff that features two of the top starting pitchers in the NAIA. Senior right-hander Andy Heimbach returns for his final season after being selected as the 1999 NAIA National Player of the Year as he led the nation in earned run average (1.54) and strikeouts (141) while posting a 13-2 record with six shutouts. Dave Byard, another senior right-hander, was an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American after compiling a 10-1 record with a 1.66 ERA as a junior.
Junior right-hander Mike Waddell returns to the starting rotation after missing all of the 1999 season with an injury. He went 5-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 1998, and he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning. Sophomore left-hander Mark Coulter will also join the rotation after posting a 3-3 record with a 2.89 ERA in eight appearances in 1999. The rest of the pitching staff is made up of junior Nate Overholt, sophomores Aaron Holt and Steve Waers, and freshmen Jason Irish, Lew Hilgenberg, Tim Saunders, and Aaron Zimmerman.
The Cougars depth continues in the field where MVNC returns a starter at nearly every position. Senior Jeff Lavin will anchor the team's defense from behind the plate as he looks to duplicate his success in 1999 when he was selected as an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American after batting .345 and allowing only one passed ball all season. His back-ups behind the plate will be freshmen Josh Sichina and Dave Cox.
The Cougars' infield should be solid once again with Coulter, Waddell, and senior Drue Gray all seeing action at first base. Junior Jason Hall returns to start at second base for the third straight year, while senior Brian Sheets will be back at third base after missing most of the 1999 season with a knee injury. Junior Joel Laslo, who filled in for Sheets at third base last year, will move over to shortstop as MVNC will be without the services of Scott Crawford, an All-Conference First Team selection who is out with a knee injury. Freshmen Joe Cuellar, Nathan Shafer, and Sichina will also compete for playing time.
The battle for the starting spots in the outfield will be heated with seven talented players competing for the three spots. Waddell and juniors Jeff Wine and Eddie Wright appear to have the inside track for the starting positions heading into the season, but sophomores Matt Alison, Josh College, Jon Wisecup, and junior Matt Stryker are all capable of stepping into the lineup. Wisecup is also one of the primary options as the team's designated hitter heading into the year.
The Cougars, who are ranked #36 in the 2000 NAIA preseason poll, will play another rugged schedule that includes 16 games over Spring Break in Fort Myers, Florida. In addition, the team will play non-conference contests against perennial powers Ohio Wesleyan University, the College of Wooster, the University of Findlay, Mount Union College, John Carroll University, and Otterbein College.
MVNC will also compete for the American Mideast Conference title in 2000. The 12-team conference features three teams ranked in the NAIA preseason poll (#24 Shawnee State University, #35 Ohio Dominican College, and MVNC).
"After finishing as the runner-up in the conference and the conference tournament last year, we are looking to get back on top," said Veale. "I have great respect for the competition in our conference. This is as good as I have seen the conference in terms of baseball competition. The baseball teams added the past two years, along with the continued improvement of the other programs, make this a very challenging season."