James Madison enters its final Colonial Athletic Association baseball weekend series at Delaware looking to secure one of the final spots for next week’s six-team CAA Tournament. The Dukes and Blue Hens get underway Thursday at 3 p.m. followed by another meeting Friday at 3 p.m. and the series finale Saturday at 1 p.m.
Madison (23-26, 10-13 CAA) currently sits sixth place among the seven CAA squads eligible for tournament participation. The Dukes hold a lead of one and a half games over Hofstra (22-26, 9-15), which hosts first-place UNCW (36-17, 17-6) in a Friday doubleheader and a single game Saturday. JMU needs any combination adding to two of wins vs. Delaware (30-19, 13-11) and losses by Hofstra in order to secure the spot.
JMU also has the potential of finishing as high as third in the league standings with a sweep of Delaware combined with Northeastern (27-22, 11-13) taking two out of three in a series at Towson (23-27, 12-12). The Dukes are currently two and a half games back of Delaware, one and a half back of Towson and a half game back of Northeastern. Therefore Madison enters its last three games with the possibility of finishing anywhere from third to seventh among the seven teams. UNCW, William and Mary (33-19, 15-9), Delaware and Towson have clinched tournament berths.
The Dukes prepared for their final weekend on Tuesday by claiming a 13-4 home triumph over Liberty. Junior outfielder Tyler Gregory homered for the second straight game with four RBIs and Casey Goss drove in five runs, including a rare inside-the-park grand slam. Freshman J.T. Root tossed five scoreless frames as the first of five JMU pitchers in the game.
The Blue Hens were sitting in position for a possible NCAA at large bid before dropping two of three games in a CAA series at Hofstra. That started UD’s current stretch of losing nine of the last 14 games. Most recently, Delaware has dropped three of its last four games, including the final two games of last weekend’s CAA series at Northeastern (W, 6-1, L, 3-1, L, 5-3).
Delaware boasts a potent offense, ranking 16th in the nation with a .309 average, 10th in doubles (2.22 per game) and 16th in slugging percentage (.450). The Blue Hens have been paced offensively by CAA Player of the Year candidate Jimmy Yezzo, who sits in the top five nationally with a .419 batting average and third with his doubles average of one every two games. He has 25 doubles, 12 home runs, 58 RBIs and a .729 slugging percentage. Nick Ferdinand is batting .347 with 14 doubles, 10 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Staff ace Chad Kuhl has been dominant, going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 13 starts while amassing 95 2/3 innings and 73 strikeouts.
JMU holds a narrow 20-19 lead in the all-time series, 17-15 since UD joined the league in 2002. Last year in Harrisonburg, the Blue Hens swept the series 6-4, 10-7 and 7-5. Delaware has won five of the last six meetings overall following a stretch of 13 wins in 16 meetings for the Dukes prior to that.
Thursday, May 16, 3 p.m.
JMU – Michael Howerton, r-So., RHP (3-4, 6.18 ERA)
UD – Chad Kuhl, Jr., RHP (9-2, 3.20 ERA)
Friday, May 17, 3 p.m.
JMU – Patrick Toohers, So., RHP (2-8, 8.57 ERA)
UD – Adam Davis, Jr., RHP (4-7, 3.73 ERA)
Saturday, May 18, 1 p.m.
JMU – TBA
UD – Matt Soren, Sr., RHP (4-4, 2.85 ERA)