James Madison and UNCW, winners of the last two Colonial Athletic Association baseball championships and the preseason No. 3 and No. 1 picks this year, meet in a key weekend series at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park.
Friday and Saturday's game times were moved a few weeks ago to 6:30 p.m. in order to better accommodate the JMU Invitational softball tournament also being held at Veterans Memorial Park. Admission will be free for the weekend baseball games as part of the university's celebration of the inauguration of its sixth president, Mr. Jonathan Alger.
The series not only matches two of the top three preseason picks in the CAA, but it also pits the last two CAA champions against one another. In fact, each team achieved its recent title on the other team's home turf with the Seahawks winning it at JMU in 2012 and Madison earning the hardware in 2011 on UNCW's Brooks Field.
Coming into the weekend, the Diamond Dukes are riding a season-high eight-game winning streak, including an 11-8 victory over VMI on Tuesday afternoon. The win raised the Dukes ledger to 10-6 overall, and they sit in first place in the CAA with an unblemished 3-0 record.
As a team, JMU had 18 hits on the afternoon, including a home run by senior centerfielder Johnny Bladel in the sixth inning. The home run gave the lead back to JMU (7-4) after VMI had tied the game up in the top of the sixth. Senior second baseman Casey Goss caught fire on Tuesday, going 5-for-5 with a career-high three RBIs and three runs scored. Sophomore shortstop Tyler Duke finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs on the day.
In his first collegiate start, freshman right-hander Mark Gunst got out of trouble early in the first inning after allowing the first four batters for VMI to reach base. Gunst finished the day with 1 2/3 innings pitched and allowed just one run off of two hits while striking out two. Freshman right-hander Michael Church picked up the win, his second of the season, when he threw an inning of no-hit relief.
As a team, the Dukes are hitting .372 during their current eight-game winning streak with seven regulars at .355 or better. Goss leads the way at .536 (15-for-28) with five extra-base hits and 12 RBIs. Matt Tenaglia has driven in 15 with four doubles while Conner Brown (.458) and Ty McFarland (.410) are each hitting over .400.
JMU and UNCW have been opposites in the early goings statistically. While the Dukes rank second in the CAA in team batting at .337 and sixth with a 4.94 team ERA, the Seahawks lead the league with a 3.46 team ERA and rank sixth with a team batting mark of .276.
UNCW will be carrying its own momentum into the games, after having swept a three-game series with former CAA member VCU this past weekend. Junior third baseman Ryan LaGrange was hot all weekend, hitting .636 with seven hits, and he also knocked in five runs as well. Sophomore left fielder Luke Dunlap also had a great weekend, batting .500 with six hits and five runs scored.
The Seahawks went on to also beat Coastal Carolina on Wednesday 13-7, leading the Chanticleers in hits 16-7. Michael Bass went 3-for-4 with his fourth home run and four RBIs. Tyler Molinaro also hit his fourth home run and went 4-for-5 at the plate.
JMU leads the all-time series 54-38 against the Seahawks, but they have split the last six games, three apiece, including three in a row for UNCW. In the last meeting, the Seahawks swept the series from JMU 10-7, 8-7 and 14-3 in a set that, like this year, was also the first CAA action of the year for UNCW. The last JMU victory came in 2011 when the Dukes defeated the Seahawks in North Carolina, 13-7; this will be the first contest between the two teams in Harrisonburg since the end of the 2011 season.
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
JMU - Patrick Toohers, So., RHP (1-2, 5.91 ERA)
UNCW - Mat Batts, r-Jr,. LHP (2-0, 1.75 ERA)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
JMU - Luke Drayer, r-So., LHP (2-0, 1.80 ERA)
UNCW - Jordan Ramsey, So., RHP (1-2, 1.91 ERA)
Sunday, 2 p.m.
JMU - Michael Howerton, r-So., RHP (2-0, 5.85 ERA)
UNCW - Christian MacDonald, Jr., LHP (2-0, 3.47 ERA)