James Madison baseball will look to start the 2013 season on the right foot when it travels to South Carolina to face No. 35 Coastal Carolina this weekend. JMU enters the 2013 season eager to move past an injury-riddled 2012 campaign.
The Dukes' first game is Friday at 1 p.m. in Florence, South Carolina at Francis Marion University's Sparrow Stadium. JMU will then play Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at TicketReturn.com Field, home of Minor League Baseball's Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The arrangements were necessary due to season-long construction at CCU's Watson Stadium.
Last year, coming off a league championship in 2011 and picked to repeat as CAA title winner in 2012, JMU struggled through injury woes and finished 10th in the Colonial Athletic Association with a record of 10-20 and 16-35-2 overall, missing out on any postseason play.
Entering the 2013 season, JMU was voted to finish third in the CAA in the coaches' preseason poll and junior infielder Conner Brown was selected to the Preseason All-CAA Team. Brown finished last season batting .338 with three home runs and 33 RBIs.
Junior utility player Ty McFarland was named a preseason honorable mention honoree after only playing half of the season last year due to injuries. McFarland finished last season with a .330 batting average and 16 RBIs. Senior outfielder Cole McInturff was also named a preseason honorable mention after finishing last season hitting .360 with 10 doubles and 14 stolen bases.
Madison hopes to gain an offensive boost with the return of junior first baseman Matt Tenaglia, who missed all of last season due to injury. Tenaglia finished the 2011 season hitting .341 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs. The Dukes also expect a full season comeback from senior outfielder Johnny Bladel, who was limited to half of the season last year but ranks in the top 10 at JMU for career on-base percentage (.454).
JMU returns eight position starters plus Tenaglia this season. Overall, the Dukes lost eight players from last year, but will have 18 letter winners returning to the squad including eight promising newcomers.
The pitching staff is composed almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores with the rotation to be anchored by sophomore right-handers Patrick Toohers and Michael Howerton. Other candidates for the third weekend spot as well as mid-week roles include sophomore left-handers Ben Garner and Luke Drayer along with freshman right-hander Michael Church.
Sophomore Chris Huffman takes over closer duties full time and had his potential ability noticed by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association with a selection to the preseason watch list for Stopper of the Year. Junior Trent Cundiff, Bladel and sophomore Aaron Hoover will also fill key relief roles along with several freshmen.
Coastal Carolina, winners of the last six Big South regular season and tournament titles, was unanimously picked to win the league's newly-formed South division. Reigning Big South Co-Pitcher of the Year senior Aaron Burke was a near-unanimous pick to repeat the honor this year as well. In the Big South South Division preseason coaches' poll, CCU received all 12 first-place votes, along with 72 points in total.
Burke and Ryan Connolly each carried a heavy load in relief for the Chants. Burke was 10-5 with a 1.58 ERA and seven saves in 79 2/3 innings, all in 35 relief appearances. Connolly also worked exclusively in relief, going 5-2 with 11 saves and a 2.10 ERA in 77 innings.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHERS
Game 1 - James Madison vs Coastal Carolina - Friday 1 p.m.
JMU - Patrick Toohers, So., RHP (2-3, 4.29 ERA)
Toohers will be leading the Dukes' pitching staff this season after compiling a 4.29 ERA last season and a 2-3 record as a freshman. Last year, Toohers ranked fourth in the CAA for opponent batting average (.250), third for fewest hits allowed (62), sixth for fewest earned runs allowed (32) and fifth for fewest home runs allowed (2). Toohers was also voted as JMU's Most Valuable Pitcher.
Coastal Carolina - Tyler Herb, Jr., RHP (9-2, 2.61 ERA)
Herb's nine wins last year ranked 37th in the NCAA, second in the Big South, and his 2.61 ERA ranked 96th nationally and sixth-best in the Big South. In 70 starts last year, Herb accumulated 70 strikeouts, allowed just 7.26 hits per nine innings and his .223 opponent's batting average ranked third in the Big South. Herb's career ERA of 2.98 ranks 12th on the all-time CCU list and eighth during the CCU Division-I era.
Game 2 - James Madison vs Coastal Carolina - Saturday 4 p.m.
JMU - Michael Howerton, RSo., RHP (1-4, 6.52 ERA)
Howerton returns to the JMU rotation seeking further progression after spending much of last season on the starting rotation. Howerton finished last season with 6.52 ERA and 1-4 record having moved into the rotation permanently around the midpoint of the season.
Coastal Carolina - Ben Smith, So., LHP (2-1, 2.17 ERA)
Smith entered last year as the No. 3 weekend starter before being moved into the bullpen. Smith went on to post a 2-1 record with an impressive 2.17 ERA to go along with three saves. In 14 relief appearances, Smith allowed just 19 hits and eight runs while recording 35 strikeouts.
Game 3 - James Madison vs Coastal Carolina - Sunday 2 p.m.
JMU - TBA
Coastal Carolina - Tyler Poole, RFr., RHP (N/A)
Poole was forced to sit out all of last season due to injury and will be making his collegiate debut on Sunday.
JMU and CCU will match up for the 13th time with the Chanticleers holding a narrow 7-5 advantage in the series after winning six of the last eight matchups. In last year's season opener for both teams, the Chants claimed a 7-1 victory in Conway. Madison led Coastal in hits 11-7 but was done in by five errors. JMU's last win in the series was an 8-6 triumph in Myrtle Beach in 2009.