Winners of six straight games overall and 10 straight in the conference, James Madison (37-17, 21-9 CAA) heads into the 2011 Colonial Athletic Association Championship as the tournament's top seed for the second year in a row.
The tournament gets underway Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. with No. 1 JMU facing No. 4 Georgia State (37-19, 17-13) at 3 p.m. That will be followed by No. 2 Old Dominion (28-24, 19-11) matching up with host and No. 3 UNC Wilmington (30-26, 18-12 CAA) at 7 p.m. Action continues with games at noon, 3:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday. The championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday with a second game to follow if necessary in the double elimination format.
JMU, ranked 30th nationally by Collegiate Baseball on Monday, won 10 straight CAA games, including three straight sweeps, to go from 11-9 two thirds of the way through the season to finish 21-9 and two games ahead of the rest of the pack. Recognized for much of the season for their offensive prowess, the Dukes used a 3.66 team ERA during the 10-game streak in order to make their move.
All games of the CAA Championship will be available for live viewing at CAASports.com. Annual subscribers of MadiZONE can watch JMU games through their subscription. Otherwise, single game and tournament packages can be purchased at CAASports.com.
JMU IN CAA STATISTICAL RANKINGS
The Dukes have led the conference offensively for much of the season. Through the end of the regular season, JMU ranks atop the league for average (.319), on-base percentage (.417), slugging percentage (.531), runs (495), hits (604), triples (27), home runs (76), RBIs (445), steals (142) and sacrifice flies (42). The Dukes are second with a .967 fielding percentage, doubles (120) and walks (271).
The pitching staff ranks 10th in ERA (5.98), though that number has gone down by half a run in the last two weeks. JMU is second in strikeouts with 398 and strikeouts per nine innings at 7.35, but the Dukes are last in home runs allowed (62), walks (269) and walks per nine innings (4.97).
JMU'S CAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
JMU heads into the CAA championship as the top seed for the seventh time in the 26-year history of the conference. No other CAA school has been No. 1 more than four times. It is the first time in program history, and just the second time in CAA history, finishing first in the regular season in back-to-back seasons (George Mason 1992-93). The Dukes are 9-12 all-time as the #1 seed in the CAA Tournament and have not won the championship as the top seed. JMU's only CAA title came as the second seed in 2008. The top seed has not won the CAA Championship since VCU in 2003 and has only won five titles in 26 seasons (ECU 1990, GMU 1992, ODU 1994, ODU 1996, VCU 2003). In fact, the top seed hasn't even reached the CAA title game since VCU in 2003, which was the final year the tournament was played in Manteo, N.C. before moving to UNCW's Brooks Field. Altogether, JMU is 39-40 in CAA Tournament play.
SCOUTING GEORGIA STATE (37-19 OVERALL, 17-13 CAA)
JMU's tournament opener will be a matchup of the league's top two hitting squads with JMU boasting a .319 average and Georgia State second at .305 and second in runs scored with 391. However, at least on paper, the Panthers hold a decisive advantage on the pitching mound with a CAA-best 4.23 team earned run average. It will also be a matchup of the league's two best overall records with the Dukes at 37-17 overall and the Panthers at 37-19, both in the top 40 nationally.
Preseason CAA Player of the Year Mark Micowski followed up on expectations to lead GSU with a .362 batting average. He leads the team in hits (84), doubles (20), RBIs (48) and total bass (127). Four other starters are hitting over .300 with Brandon Williams at .350 with 13 doubles and 36 RBIs along with Rob Lind at .333 with 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 37 RBIs.
All three regular league starting pitchers boast ERAs under 3.85 for the Panthers. Will Campbell leads the way at 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA. Opponents have hit .231 against him in 88 2/3 innings. Charley Olson is 5-5 with a 3.78 ERA while Justin Malone is 7-1 with a 3.81 Era.
SCOUTING OLD DOMINION (28-24 OVERALL, 19-11 CAA)
ODU was picked to finish seventh in the CAA, but no one told interim head coach Nate Goulet and the Monarchs as they surged to a second-place finish at 19-11. Old Dominion was actually in first place heading into the final weekend before dropping two of three at Hofstra while JMU swept Northeastern. An early season series win at JMU helped boost the Monarchs into a successful league season that saw them at the top of the standings much of the way.
Offensively, Old Dominion ranks 10th in the league with a .267 batting average. However, the Monarchs have used power (97 doubles and 41 home runs) and timely hitting in their league games along with a dominant pitching staff. Josh Wright and Chris Baker have been a formidable duo with Wright hitting .376 with 15 doubles, five triples, 12 home runs and 44 RBIs while Baker bats .302 with 21 doubles, nine home runs and 58 RBIs.
The Monarchs have overcome any hitting deficiencies with a dominant pitching staff. Kyle Hald (8-2, 3.51 ERA), Ben Tomchick (7-4, 3.28 ERA) and Phil McCarthy (8-4, 4.11) formed one of the league's best starting trios while freshman setup man Dean Ali (2.73 ERA in 52 2/3 innings) and closer Adam Wisniewski (3.12 ERA, 14 saves) shortened most games with light-out relief at the end of the bullpen.
SCOUTING UNC WILMINGTON (30-26 OVERALL, 18-12 CAA)
UNCW qualified for the CAA Championship on the penultimate day of the regular season, continuing its run as the only program to participate in all 26 league championship tournaments over the years. The Seahawks finished the season ranked fourth in the league with a .300 team batting average while leading the way with 127 doubles. UNCW is eighth in the conference with a 5.43 staff ERA.
The Seahawks possess a well-rounded lineup with eight different players piling up 10 or more doubles. Thomas Pope leads the league with a .411 batting average with his 79 hits including 13 doubles, two triples and five home runs. Hunter Ridge has been the leading run producer with 54 RBIs while hitting.357 with 17 doubles and eight home runs. Matt Campbell is hitting .326 with 13 doubles and five home runs while Andrew Cain is at .307 with 14 doubles and a team-best 10 long balls.
On the mound, Daniel Cropper (7-3, 4.41 ERA) and Tyler McSwain (5-4, 4.52 ERA) have been the most reliable starters, each with 81 2/3 innings with no one else over 45. William Prince and Blaze Tart have formed a solid relief due, each with five saves and ERAs under 3.25. Prince has a team-best .168 average against him by opponents.
JMU faced all three teams in this year's tournament at home and went 5-4 against the group. ODU went 6-3 against the other tournament teams while GSU and UNCW were each 4-5.
JMU leads the all-time series with Georgia State 15-4 though the Panthers captured two of three games in early April at Eagle Field.
Old Dominion leads the all-timer series against JMU 54-47-1 and took two of three games in late March in Harrisonburg.
JMU leads UNCW 53-35 in the series history with the fifth-place Dukes sweeping first-place UNCW in late April/early May as part of their 10-game CAA winning streak.