By Zach Snider
After a successful 2012 season, the MVNU baseball team prepares to defend its Mid- Central College Conference (now the Crossroads League) Tournament championship.
Last season, the Cougars finished third in the standings during regular-season play but won the league tournament by defeating Taylor (Ind.) University 11-10 in the championship game.
“The Crossroads League will again be very competitive from top to bottom,” said coach Keith Veale, who is entering his 24th year as head coach.
The 2012 Cougars qualified for the NAIA National Championship, where they were eliminated after opening- round losses to Doane (Neb.) College and Taylor University.
The 2013 Cougars return nearly all of their offensive firepower after losing senior Josh Roberts, who hit .359 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs.
This year’s roster includes seven players who had at least a .300 batting average in 100 or more at bats last year.
“Offense is our most known commodity,” Veale said. “We should be consistent and get better throughout the season.”
Four of the team’s five graduating seniors from last year were pitchers. Kyle Barr, Darren Athey, Jerrob Decker and Jeff Estep contributed sig- nificant innings in 2012.
Senior Justin Brown and junior Mike Kochheiser are the top returnees to a largely untested pitching staff.
“We have innings that we have to replace,” Veale said.
“But we’re excited for what we have to offer. We got to the NAIA National Championship last year, and we’re hungry to get back.”
There is nowhere to go but up for the MVNU softball team. The Lady Cougars finished last in the Mid-Central College Conference in 2012, finishing 4-14 in league play.
The 2012 Lady Cougars finished with an 8-7 record in home games but were winless in 12 games on the road (non- neutral sites). The team played moderately well in non-conference games, racking up seven wins despite 12 losses.
Last year’s MCC was a gauntlet of talent. Bethel (Ind.) College finished undefeated in MCC play with a record of 18-0. Both Indiana Wesleyan University and Marian (Ind.) University received votes for a top 25 national ranking.
The Lady Cougars lost three seniors from last year’s team to graduation.
MacKenzie Shaw led the team in batting average (.386), hits (44), triples (2), total bases (52), on-base percentage (.426) and stolen bases (7). Jennifer
Gulley posted a .266 batting average and led the team in doubles (11) and walks (17). Meagan Stott pitched 48 innings for the team, earning a 1-5 record and a 7.53 ERA.
“We’ll miss our seniors,” said coach Jeana Howald, who is entering her 24th season as head coach despite battling eye cancer in the offseason.
The Lady Cougars return seven players from last year’s team and welcome eight fresh- men.
“We are fairly young and have a lot of question marks,” Howald said. “But we’ll have a whole new look this season.”
Junior Kara Morrison and sophomore Morgan Wade are the team’s top offensive returnees from 2012
Morrison batted .286 and scored 13 runs. Wade led the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (24) and slugging per- centage (.466).
Senior Jill Wildermuth and junior Ashley Riffell started all but five of the team’s games in 2012. Both tallied five pitching victories.
The Lady Cougars face an uphill battle in a tough Crossroads League in 2013, but they are approaching the season with a “why not us?”