HARRISONBURG, Va., March 17, 2010 - Virginia grabbed an early lead, maintained a narrow advantage throughout, and pulled away with two key insurance runs in the ninth to defeat James Madison 6-3 in front of a record crowd in the first night game in program history on Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Park.
JMU head coach Spanky McFarland commented on the game, "I was proud of the guys for coming out here and not being intimidated. I think it was a bigger deal in the stands then it was on the field [playing the top-ranked team]. We knew we could play these guys and we knew it would be a good ball game. They executed a few times and we didn't. We probably gave them a few too many free bases and we struck out a little bit more. We also hit too many fly balls. When we're hitting fly balls, something's wrong. We're a line-drive team. I thought we hit better as the game went on, but the first three innings we didn't have a hit, we were struggling a little bit. Then we started hitting and I think we matched them pretty well from then on. Overall, it was a good effort and a great atmosphere. Everything about it was great, except for the result. We get them again in a month, so hopefully we'll get better and see what happens then."
Virginia, ranked first nationally in four of the six major collegiate polls, improved to 14-3 on the season. JMU fell to 5-9 and dropped its first game in Veterans Memorial Park to sit at 2-1 at home.
A record crowd of 1,815 fans packed the brand-new complex prior to the first pitch being thrown with the first-ever JMU night game and the top-ranked, in-state rivals in town. Approximately 500 additional fans lined the grass hill areas outside of the complex. It was the largest attendance in JMU baseball history, doubling the previous mark of 897 set in 2008 against VCU at the Dukes' former home, Long Field/Mauck Stadium.
McFarland stated of the game atmosphere with the record crowd, "It's great. We've been talking about this for years, with the lights and the first night game and playing Virginia. Obviously last time we played them, we beat them. We have a pretty good history of success with them. I hope we can keep this rivalry going. I think it will too after this, I think they'll want to come here and play after an atmosphere like this tonight."
Freshman Brandon Kline was sharp in his second collegiate start for Virginia, limiting JMU to two runs, one earned, on two hits through five innings. Four relievers limited the Dukes to one run on two doubles the rest of the way with Kevin Arico picking up his sixth save.
Junior Alex Valadja (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Catholic) fell to 0-2 despite a strong outing, allowing just two runs to a Cavaliers' offense that entered the day with a .365 team batting average. He struck out four and allowed four hits. JMU's pitching staff was hurt by a total of 12 walks with Valadja issuing six along with four wild pitches and two passed balls.
McFarland was pleased by the effort of his starting left-hander, saying "He's a big game guy. He's not intimidated by anybody. He's thrown some good games for us through the years. He didn't give in to a lot of their hitters. We had a plan, off-speed stuff even in a full count, and they're a good enough team that they didn't chase. There were some walks, but we didn't give in and he worked out of a lot of his jams."
First baseman Kenny Swab paced the Virginia offense going 2-for-3 with a solo home run and a walk. Catcher John Hicks had two hits with a double, two runs, and a walk. Left fielder John Barr singled, walked twice, and scored twice. Second baseman Phil Gosselin reached base all five times in the leadoff spot, all on free passes.
Junior third baseman McKinnon Langston (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian) drove in a run with a double while redshirt junior Trevor Knight (Charlottesville, Va./St. Anne's-Belfield) added an RBI single. Senior left fielder Matt Browning (Mystic, Conn./Fitch) had the other JMU RBI with a sacrifice fly.
Virginia struck for the first run in the second as Hicks led off with a double to left center. Barr hit a sharp single through the right side to score Hicks for the 1-0 lead. A walk put two runners on with no out, but Knight made a diving stab at a popped bunt and doubled the runner off second for two quick outs. After a walk, a fly ball to right escaped the inning.
The Cavaliers put up their second run in the fourth. After loading the bases on walks, a passed ball by sophomore catcher Jake Lowery (Midlothian, Va./Cosby) allowed Barr to score.
JMU put its first run on the board in the fifth. Redshirt senior right fielder Matt Townsend (Lorton, Va./Hayfield) walked and redshirt senior designated hitter Brett Garner (Burke, Va./Lake Braddock) reached on an error by the third baseman. Knight then poked a flare off the end of the bat down the right field line to plate Townsend for a 2-1 score.
Virginia responded quickly on one swing as Swab crushed the third pitch from relief pitcher David Edwards (Ocala, Fla./St. Cloud) for a solo shot to left to lead off the top of the sixth.
Freshman center fielder Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) led off the JMU sixth with a walk and moved to third when senior second baseman Mike Fabiaschi (Torrington, Conn./Torrington) walked and an unnecessary throw to second with the runner moving got away into center field. After Fabiaschi stole second, Browning hit a sacrifice fly to right center to pull the Dukes within a run at 3-2.
In the seventh, Hicks led off with a walk for Virginia and moved to second on a wild pitch. After a strikeout, junior Kevin Munson (Roanoke, Va./Cave Spring) entered in relief. Swab hit a sharp ball right back at Munson, who couldn't quite corral the hit. A wild pitch in the dirt on the next batter scored Hicks for a 4-2 UVA lead.
Garner led off the seventh with a well-struck double to center. After a strikeout, Langston smacked a low-liner double to left center to drive in Garner for a 4-3 score.
In the ninth, Barr walked and Swab was hit by a pitch. Pinch hitter Keith Werman laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Lowery's throw sailed high into foul territory to allow Barr to score. A sacrifice fly with the bases loaded added the final insurance run for the 6-3 lead.
In the JMU ninth, Townsend led off with a walk and Villenave was hit by a pitch with two outs to bring up the potential tying run. However, Lowery's well-struck line drive to right was caught just shy of the warning track for the final out.
JMU will continue its seven-game home stand by opening Colonial Athletic Association play this weekend with a three-game series against Towson at Veterans Memorial Park. Friday and Saturday games will be at 6:30 p.m. Sunday's series finale will be at 2 p.m.
NOTES: It was the third time in JMU history playing the nation's top-ranked team, the others in 1983 against Texas in the College World Series and 1995 against Cal State Fullerton in the LSU Regional... both previous No. 1's that JMU played went on to capture the national championship... the previous meeting between the two teams was JMU's last win against a top 10 team with a 7-6 win in 14 innings against No. 3 Virginia in Charlottesville in 2007.