James Madison will close the 2011 regular season and begin its preparations for the Colonial Athletic Association baseball championship as the Dukes play Northeastern Thursday through Saturday at Friedman Diamond in Brookline, Mass.
The series gets underway Thursday at 2 p.m. weather permitting and continues with a 1 p.m. game Friday and noon game Saturday. JMU is 34-17 overall and stands a season-best 17 games over .500. The Dukes have won seven straight league games, the longest streak since 2008. The Huskies are 18-30 overall and sit eighth in the league at 12-15, eliminated from postseason contention.
The series is a matchup of competing strengths as JMU leads the CAA in nearly every offensive category, including with a .324 team average and 74 home runs. However, the Dukes rank 10th in the league with a 6.30 team ERA, though the pitching has improved in recent weeks with a 4.50 team mark over the last nine games.
On the opposite end of the scale, Northeastern ranks last in the CAA offensively with a .259 average having hit a league-worst 13 home runs and having scored 190 runs compared to 481 for the Dukes. However, the pitching staff has been stellar with a 4.28 team ERA and the Huskies boast one of the best starting trios in the league.
JMU enters the final weekend tied for first place in the CAA with Old Dominion at 18-9. Together they are the only teams to clinch a tournament berth to date. ODU finishes the season at Hofstra and holds the tiebreaker over JMU thanks to a series win in late March. Both teams clinch playing as the home team for their tournament opener with one victory thanks to a two-game lead on third place and both with tiebreakers over UNCW (16-11).
The Seahawks finish hosting VCU Thursday through Saturday. Two UNCW wins clinch a spot in the tournament while one still leaves the tournament host in good position. Fourth-place Georgia State (15-12) is in the best position for the final spot and will host George Mason in a series beginning Thursday. The Panthers lead Towson and William and Mary, which are tied for sixth at 14-13, by one game. Those two teams finish against each other with one likely needing a sweep of the other for a chance. Delaware sits in fifth place at 16-14 but has already finished league play. The chances for the Blue Hens are complicated, likely needing a sweep of UNCW by VCU.
As mentioned, the Huskies thrive on possession one of the top pitching staffs in the CAA. The starting trio of Andrew Leenhouts (3-7, 3.38 ERA), Les Williams (5-5, 3.89 ERA) and Brandon McNelis (4-6, 5.05) have combined to pitch 238 1/3 innings of the 416 1/3 total for the team with 198 strikeouts. Dylan Maki has been solid out of the pen with a 3-1 record, six saves, 3.51 ERA and .253 opponent average.
Offensively, just two regular starters carry averages higher than .265. Aaron Barbosa is batting .345 with six doubles, three triples and a home run. Matt Miller is at .328 with team highs of 13 doubles and 24 RBIs.
JMU holds a slim 7-6 lead in the all-time series. The two teams did not meet in 2010. The Dukes have claimed two wins in each of the last two series, including 2009 at home and 2008 at Northeastern. That series shaped up similarly to this year with the Dukes closing the regular season in Brookline already in good shape for the tournament. JMU went on to win the CAA championship the next week.
Starter 1-Sean Tierney, r-Jr., LHP (8-1, 3.54)
Starter 2-Alex Valadja, Sr., LHP (5-3, 7.90)
Starter 1-Les Williams, Sr., RHP (5-5, 3.89)
Starter 2-Andrew Leenhouts, Jr.,LHP (3-7 3.38)
Starter 3-Brandon McNelis, Sr., RHP (4-6 5.05)