WILMINGTON, N.C., May 24, 2008 – Redshirt junior Kurt Houck’s (Gilbertsville, Pa./Boyertown) four hitter led James Madison University to its first Colonial Athletic Association baseball championship with a 6-1 win over Towson University on Saturday afternoon at Brooks Field.
JMU, the tournament’s second seed, won its sixth in a row to improve to 38-17 on the season. The title is the first in 23 years of playing baseball in the CAA for the Dukes, 11 of which came under current head coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland. JMU was runner up five times, the most recent in 2002.
Madison receives the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Baseball Championship. The 16 regional host sites will be announced on Sunday evening at approximately 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The full 64-team bracket will be unveiled on Monday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN.
The Dukes went 4-0 in the tournament and were the only team to win more than two games. Sixth-seeded Towson ended its season at 30-27 with its second runner-up finish in the championship.
In a tournament dominated by offense, JMU was the only team to find much success on the pitching mound. Only four pitchers in the tournament lasted seven innings or more with three of the four by the Dukes. JMU had a 4.25 team ERA in the six-team event while the next best staff ERA for the week was 9.56 by Old Dominion.
Houck pitched the first complete game of his career, the third of the season and second of the tournament for JMU. He struck out six, allowed just four hits, and the only run against him was unearned while improving to 7-2 on the season. Houck’s previous longest outing of the season was seven innings against Towson back on March 14. He had worked eight innings three times previously in his career.
Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight (Charlottesville, Va./St. Anne’s Belfield) capped his All-Tournament performance by driving in three runs on a solo home run and a two-run single. Sophomore Alex Foltz (Mathias, W.Va./East Hardy) completed his tournament Most Outstanding Player resume with a 2-for-4 performance with a run, RBI, and a stolen base.
Foltz and Knight were joined on the all-tournament team by Houck and fellow teammates redshirt sophomore Steven Caseres (New City, N.Y./St. Joseph Regional), who drove in 10 runs during the week with a pair of home runs, and freshman Turner Phelps (Roanoke, Va./Lord Botetourt), who pitched the other complete game for the Dukes in the opener on Wednesday with 10 strikeouts.
The other members of the all-tournament squad included Towson first baseman Greg Furmanek and outfielder Brian Conley, William & Mary first baseman Mike Sheridan and pitcher Sean Grieve, George Mason outfielder Scott Krieger, and UNC Wilmington pitcher Brad Holt.
After three scoreless frames to open the game for just the second time in the tournament, JMU broke out on top in the fourth inning with a leadoff solo home run by Knight, his second of the tournament and third of the season.
A pair of JMU singles led off the fifth before a fielder’s choice set up first and third with one out. Freshman David Herbek (Haymarket, Va./Battlefield) came in to score from third on a wild pitch for a 2-0 JMU lead.
In the seventh, junior Brett Garner (Burke, Va./Lake Braddock) reached on a leadoff walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Herbek. Foltz then singled to center for a 3-0 Dukes advantage. Foltz stole second and reached third on a balk. Lake doubled in Foltz for another JMU run. Towson elected to intentionally walk Caseres and both runners advanced a base on a wild pitch. Knight then dropped in a two-run single just in front of the right fielder for a 6-0 JMU lead.
In the eighth inning, Towson put runners on the corners with two outs on a double and an infield single. Herbek then muffed an opportunity for the third out, allowing the only run to score for the Tigers.
Kurt Houck on 2006 when JMU was top seed and 2-0 before dropping the third game to UNCW after leading 9-2 and a rain delay hit, aiding the Seahawk comeback:
“I know a lot of the older guys still had that bad taste in our mouths, and I know we talked about it for two years. It lifts the weight off our shoulders. In the third game yesterday, we saw it start to go bad but we came together as a team with better composure and played as a better team.”
Houck on pitching game of his life:
“It’s a great feeling a great win for our team, my teammates, the coaches, and our university. I feel honored to be the guy who was out there on the mound. The team took care of everything so that I could pitch the fourth game.”
Trevor Knight on the championship:
“It feels great to win a championship. Kurt did a great job. It makes it a lot easier as a hitter when the pitcher is throwing a great game. You can relax, go up there, see the ball, and hit it.”
Spanky on first the first JMU CAA championship:
“As storied as the program is at JMU with all the regionals and several good regular seasons, we’ve never won the tournament, so that’s a nice monkey to have off our backs.”