HARRISONBURG, Va., May 12, 2013 – Senior center fielder Colby Roberts (Benton, Ark./Benton) capped a four-RBI effort with a first-pitch, walk-off blast off the right field scoreboard to make James Madison an instant 8-7 winner over Towson to clinch a Colonial Athletic Association series win Sunday afternoon at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park.
JMU improved to 22-26 overall and 10-13 in the CAA while winning the weekend series two games to one. More importantly, the Dukes opened a one and a half game lead over Hofstra for the final CAA Championship berth heading into the final three-game weekend. TU fell to 23-27 overall and 12-12 in the CAA but still clinched a tournament spot thanks to Hofstra’s 6-3 loss at Georgia State.
JMU twice rallied from behind in the game, tying it at 3-3 after an early three-run deficit and taking a 6-5 lead after a Towson two-run home run by Dominic Fratantuono. That lead held heading into the ninth when Towson tied the score with a first-pitch solo home run by Kurt Wertz and took the lead on an RBI groundout by Brendan Butler.
Facing a 7-6 deficit, junior first baseman Ty McFarland (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby) drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth. First-pitch swinging, Roberts lined an inside pitch hard over the high fence in right field and off of the scoreboard for the game winner, the first of his career.
It was the fourth home run of the season and fifth of his JMU career for Roberts, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs. Over the last 14 games, Roberts is batting .518 (29-for-56) with nine doubles, three home runs and 26 RBIs.
The ninth-inning uprising made a winner of sophomore right-hander Chris Huffman (Fort Defiance, Va./Fort Defiance). He improved to 4-4 despite allowing two runs in 2 1/3 innings. Sophomore starter Patrick Toohers (Florham Park, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) had his best start in a month, allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings with a career-high eight strikeouts.
In addition to Roberts, McFarland scored in each of three times reaching base, including a single, walk and hit by pitch. Senior shortstop Casey Goss (Springfield, Mo./Glenville) was 2-for-4 with an RBI. Junior second baseman Conner Brown (Richmond, Va./Godwin) drove in a pair of runs on a double, and junior Tyler Gregory (Dothan, Ala./Houston Academy) hit a pinch hit home run.
Nik Nowattnick suffered the loss for Towson with the only hit allowed in two innings of work being the home run by Roberts. Starter Brandon Gonnella allowed six runs on 10 hits with six strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Wertz starred for Towson, going 5-for-5 with four singles and the tying home run in the ninth. Left fielder Peter Bowles wrapped up an impressive weekend, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs with a double and a home run.
The Tigers struck first as, following a strikeout, Towson strung together a walk and a pair of singles, the latter a slow bouncer through the left side by Bowles for a 1-0 lead. Bowles added to the lead in his next at bat with a two-run shot over the high wall in right field to make it 3-0 in the third.
Madison had little going on offense with just two hits in the first five innings. In the sixth, the Dukes rallied with five consecutive batters reaching base. McFarland started the uprising with a hit by pitch and scored when Roberts hit a high bouncer over the first baseman for an RBI double. A pair of singles loaded the bases, and Brown came through with a double just inside the third base bag. Two runners scored on the play, but Goss was narrowly swiped by the catcher on his wide slide, keeping the score at 3-3.
The tie did not last long as Wertz singled for Towson with one out in the seventh. With two outs, Fratantuono smacked a no-doubt shot to right field for a 5-3 Tigers’ lead.
JMU kept the offense going in the seventh as pinch hitter Tyler Gregory hit a solo home run to right center, his first with the Dukes, to make it 5-4. Singles by senior designated hitter Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) and McFarland were followed by a single to shallow left center by Roberts to tie the score at 5-5. With the bases loaded after a hit batter, Goss grounded out to give JMU its first lead of the day at 6-5.
The Dukes took that 6-5 lead into the ninth but Wertz smacked the first pitch from Huffman over the right field wall to tie the game at 6-6. A double by Bowles and a pair of walks loaded the bases. Butler’s fielder’s choice groundout was dribbled just slowly enough to shortstop to beat out the double play at first to allow the go-ahead run to score, 7-6.
JMU hosts its final home game of the season on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. vs. Liberty before heading into the final CAA weekend at Delaware (13-11 CAA) Thursday through Saturday. At 10-13, JMU holds a lead of one and a half games over Hofstra (9-15), which hosts first-place UNCW (17-6) Thursday through Saturday.