HARRISONBURG, Va., Nov. 13, 2009 – James Madison baseball head coach Spanky McFarland announced today the signing of seven student-athletes to national letters of intent to join the Diamond Dukes for the 2010-2011 academic year.
“We’re extremely happy with the guys we’re bringing in this year,” commented McFarland, who will coach his 13th season at JMU in 2010. “They fit the general qualities that we look for in our players. They’re all athletic. They come from winning programs. They’re all leaders in their schools and in their communities. They are the type of people that we like here with JMU baseball.”
The seven newly-signed Diamond Dukes include five right-handed pitchers, two that also play shortstop. The other two signees include another middle infielder and a first baseman/outfielder. They include Conner Brown (Henrico, Va./Godwin), Trent Cundiff (Roanoke, Va./Northside), Michael Howerton (Chesterfield, Va./Matoaca), Ryan Kilmon (Virginia Beach, Va./Kellam), Tyler McFarland (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby), Jarred Tate (Bluff City, Tenn./Virginia H.S.), and Tyler Thornton (Merrick, N.Y./Calhoun).
McFarland added, “All of the pitchers are tall, lean, and possess great upside. They all throw 86 to 91 miles per hour. They all have a chance to gain some weight and mature and become guys to regularly throw in the low 90s. We also have three guys who play shortstop. We’ve always recruited a lot of shortstops, because typically they are the best athlete on the team. They can shift to other positions as we see fit. We’ll see who actually ends up playing shortstop for us, but at the same time, they are athletic enough that they can move around. We’re really happy with what we got in the early signing group.”
JMU had nationally-ranked recruiting classes for each freshman class for the 2007 through 2009 seasons. McFarland feels this group will also prove worthy, adding “Athletically, they are right up there with any other recruiting class we’ve had. If you look at the group as a whole, I think the upside is as big as any group we’ve brought in because they all have room for a lot of development. How well they adapt immediately to the college game is obviously a mystery. But they have good frames to work with, they work hard, and they’ll fit right in to our developmental plan.”
The newcomers will look to continue a run of success for JMU that includes winning records in three of the last four seasons along with one Colonial Athletic Association championship and one regular-season title. Each player will also have the benefit of playing his entire career in a brand new state-of-the-art complex at Veterans Memorial Park. The baseball stadium includes a synthetic playing surface throughout, full-size dugouts, expanded batting cages and bullpens, improved concession and souvenir areas, a larger and expanded press box, and seating for 1,200 fans. In addition, the indoor space in Memorial Hall was completely remodeled with new coaches’ offices, team meeting rooms, academic support areas, locker rooms, strength training, equipment areas, sports medicine, and indoor batting cages. The program takes possession of the indoor space in the next few weeks, while the stadium will be used beginning with spring practices in early February.
The winning and new facilities have been major pieces to attracting quality recruits. McFarland added, “The winning and stadium have made a tremendous impact. People like winners and want to be with winners. Of course, the stadium has been instrumental. We’ve spent a lot of time taking these kids over there. At first we showed them the plans, then we started walking them through the early stages, and now we can show them pretty close to the finished product. Because of the stadium, we’re starting to get kids on campus that we couldn’t get in the past, just to come by and take a look and have a talk. We’ve said all along that if we can get kids on campus with the strength of the school, the environment, and now the facility, it will really open up our boundaries as far as talent. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll land all of those guys, but we’re bringing in more guys who have ACC and SEC schools on their short lists. If we can continue to win combined with the field and indoor facilities, it’s going to continue to get better and better for JMU baseball.”
Conner Brown, 2B/SS, 6-0, 180, R/R, Richmond, Va./Godwin
Brown enters JMU from Richmond’s Mills Godwin High School, a school which has produced other standouts for the Dukes recently in Matt Bristow, Mitchell Moses, and current Minor Leaguer Davis Stoneburner. Brown, a middle infielder, will be in his second year as a starter for the Eagles in 2010 after earning Second Team All-District honors as a junior. Godwin was the 2009 Colonial District champion for both the regular season and the tournament.
Trent Cundiff, RHP, 6-3, 220, R/R, Roanoke, Va./Northside
Cundiff, a right-handed pitcher, competed for the Northside Vikings, where he hit .389 with two home runs and 25 RBIs as a junior. On the mound, he registered 56 stirkeouts in 39 innings, including a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts. He was named All-Region III, All-Timesland, and All-Blue Ridge District while also being named to the Coventry Commonwealth Team of Virginia, where he went 7-for-10 with a home run. Cundiff has also competed for the Richmond Braves National travel squad, winning the 16U World Wood Bat National Championship in 2008 and the prestigious Tournament of Champions in 2009. He is a three-year letterwinner in football.
Michael Howerton, SS/RHP, 6-0, 170, R/R, Chesterfield, Va./Matoaca
Howerton joins Brown as one of two Dukes from the Richmond area, representing Chesterfield’s Matoaca High School. The two-way player was named Second Team All-Central Region as a utility player in 2009 as well as honorable mention as a third baseman in both his sophomore and junior campaigns. He was First Team All-Central District for both positions, while also earning district and region academic honors. Howerton also competed in golf, winning the Central District championship as a junior.
Ryan Kilmon, 1B/OF, 6-2, 180, R/R, Virginia Beach, Va./Kellam
Kilmon signed for the Dukes out of Virginia Beach’s Floyd E. Kellam High School where he lettered all four years in both baseball and golf for the Knights. As a junior, he was First Team All-District as a first baseman. He projects as both a first baseman and an outfielder at JMU. On the golf course, Kilmon was named All-Beach District three times and led the Knights to a top three finish in the VHSL state playoffs each of the last two years, winning the Beach District both years and finishing in the top two in the Eastern Region as well. He was All-Eastern Region in golf in 2008, while 2009 honors have not been completed yet.
Tyler McFarland, SS/RHP, 6-3, 180, L/R, Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby
McFarland, the son of JMU head coach Spanky McFarland, joins the Dukes from nearby Turner Ashby High School, which has produced numerous Division I players, including three others currently active as well as former JMU pitcher Justin Wood (2006-09). As a two-way player at shortstop and pitcher, McFarland was named All-State in AA, All-Region III, and All-Massanutten District as a utility player. He helped lead the Knights to three consecutive district titles, including the 2007 state AA championship. He also competed in track as a junior, earning All-State honors in the high jump and All-District in the 300-meter dash, 800-meter relay, triple jump, and indoor high jump.
Jarred Tate, RHP, 6-3, 170, R/R, Bluff City, Tenn./Virginia H.S.
Tate adds to the list of right-handed pitchers for the incoming class and comes from Virginia High School in Bluff City, Tennessee. He was named First Team All-District as a junior in a season highlighted by a no-hitter on April 14. He also competed in the Coventry Commonwealth Games and finished second with Team West in addition to playing for the Headfirst National Team. Tate transferred to Virginia from Sullivan East High School, where he led the Big Nine Conference in strikeouts as a sophomore. He was named all-conference and listed as a Tennessee Baseball Report Super Sophomore.
Tyler Thornton, RHP, 5-11, 170, R/R, Merrick, N.Y./Calhoun
Thornton is the fifth right-hander in the incoming stable of pitching arms for the Dukes. He competes scholastically for Calhoun H.S. in Merrick, N.Y. He competed in both baseball and football for the Colts. On the diamond, Thornton is a two-time All-Conference honoree as both a pitcher and center fielder. As a junior, he struck out 61 in 49 innings for a 1.57 ERA, highlighted by a complete-game, 15-strikeout performance with no walks and two hits surrendered in the playoffs. On the gridiron, Thornton has seen time as a running back, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner, and punter during his scholastic career.