In his years at Voorhees, senior Marvin Mouzon has been through a lot on the diamond. Most of it hasn’t been memorable.
The Tigers won five games in Mouzon’s freshman year (2011) then failed to field a team the following season. Voorhees brought the team back for 2013, but it won just once.
Last year was another eyesore for the program as it posted a dismal 3-31 record.
For someone as passionate about baseball as Mouzon – he started playing at age 4 – it was tough to swallow.
“The team was like, ‘Let’s get this loss and get back on the bus,” he said.
But in this, his final year of eligibility, Mouzon sees light at the end of the tunnel. Though Voorhees won’t finish with a winning record, its 10-19 mark is light years from where the program had been.
In fact, 10 games are more than Mouzon and the Tigers won in the previous three seasons combined. And Voorhees hadn’t posted a double-digit win season since 2010.
To a man, the players credit first-year coach Justin Thomas for righting the ship.
“He has experience for one. We know he played college ball, and we know he knows what to expect when we’re on the field,” said sophomore pitcher Denada Thomas. “We got excited to go out and play because we knew he was going to come in here and get the job done and give us a good season.”
Justin Thomas knows what it’s like to build something from practically nothing. He did it with his own baseball career.
He developed a passion for baseball in a region of western Pennsylvania known for producing star-caliber football talent, including Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett and Darrelle Revis. Lightly recruited out of Ambridge High School, Thomas walked on at Division II Slippery Rock (Pa.) University, where he was a teammate of current St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams.
He made himself into a capable reliever for SRU. In three seasons there, he pitched in 44 games (79 innings) and went 3-5 with two saves and a 4.10 ERA.
The coach started from square one, stressing fundamentals and instituting a weightlifting program for the players. And he had to beef up his roster after Voorhees finished the previous season with just 12 warm bodies.
One of the players he lured was outfielder Seth Eakin, who transferred from a Tennessee junior college this season. Eakin immediately could sense that Voorhees appeared to be in good hands.
“I liked how he said he’s going to change it around,” said Eakin. “He said he was going to turn it around, and he has. He said 10 or 15 wins, and that’s what we’ve gotten.
“Every game we’re expecting to win. I could tell at the beginning of the season that’s not what they were used to. We came out, and we competed the very first game. Coach changed the mentality.”
“He’s more in tune with us. Communication is better,” added Mouzon, who, along with Denada Thomas earned all-Golf Coast Athletic Conference honors Sunday. “He takes us through the game. There’s no more saying, ‘You’re in college now. You should know this. This should be easy.’ He takes us back to fundamentals.”
Besides the wins, Voorhees’ improvement is evident in other tangible ways. The team’s batting average is up 50 points from 2014, and its ERA is down 5 runs.
Mouzon ranks eighth in the GCAC in hitting at .351, and Travis Seabrook is right behind at .345. Denada Thomas, meanwhile, leads the conference with a sparkling 2.72 ERA. That number is especially remarkable considering his ERA last year was 14.29.
Overall, the new coach has been pleased with what he’s seen.
“Going from the end of August to the end of April, to come as far as we have as a whole, I’m more than satisfied,” he said. “As a coach and former player, you can’t let go of those few games (that got away), but as a whole I’m pleased.”
And though the Tigers still have their conference tournament (beginning today), they already are looking forward to next season. Coach Thomas said he could sense the excitement two weeks ago when he handed the players a notebook of workouts for the offseason.
Better still, the team is young and will have a couple years to grow together. Mouzon is the only senior. The bulk of the roster is freshmen (10) and sophomores (3).
“I’m really looking forward to next year with the people we have coming in and the people we’ve got returning,” said Denada Thomas. “We’re looking forward to a winning season.”
Mouzon can see the difference in attitude as well.
“They’re already looking at the schedule, and they’re putting W’s by everything,” he said. “They plan on taking everything next year. The new guys see what we’re capable of doing, and I think that has really motivated them as well.
“These freshmen, it’s a brand new breed, and I just love their enthusiasm toward the game.”
As much of a revelation as this season has been, it’s bittersweet for Mouzon. He’s helped to begin the reconstruction project, but he won’t be around for the finished product. Graduation will take him away from the program.
Still, Mouzon can take pride in the knowledge that after years of frustration, he can walk away from the Denmark, S.C., school feeling like a success.
“It feels good to finally be known as a winner at Voorhees,” he said.