Harrisonburg, Va., – James Madison officially begins baseball practice on Friday aiming to prove that last year’s injury-plagued campaign was an aberration. Coaches in the Colonial Athletic Association expect the Diamond Dukes to bounce back towards the top of the standings, predicting a third-place finish for the upcoming 2013 season according to the league’s preseason poll.
JMU (16-35-2, 10-20 CAA in 2012) had finished first or second in the CAA in four out of six seasons before a 10th-place standing in 2012, due in large part to more injuries than could be overcome. However, the league’s other nine coaches voted a healthy Madison squad to return to contention, marking the first time that any CAA team has been picked as many as seven spots ahead of its finish the previous season.
Defending champion UNCW received five of 10 possible first-place votes and was picked first with 75 points. Hofstra was picked second with 69 points, including three first place votes. JMU was third with 62 points while 2012 runner up, Delaware, received 57 points and the other two first-place votes. George Mason (49) was fifth, followed by Old Dominion (32), William and Mary (30), Towson (28), Northeastern (27) and George State (21).
With the injuries of 2012, JMU returns essentially its entire starting lineup, including players who accounted for over 80 percent of the team’s at bats last year. The group is led by returning All-CAA selections in junior infielder Conner Brown (Richmond, Va./Godwin, .338, 10 doubles, 3 HR, 33 RBIs), senior outfielder Cole McInturff (Centreville, Va./Westfield, .360, 10 doubles, 14 SB) and juniorutility player Ty McFarland (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby, .330, 16 RBIs), who missed half the season due to injuries. Brown was selected to the league’s preseason All-CAA squad while McInturff and McFarland were honorable mention preseason picks.
The offense should receive a boost from the return of junior first baseman Matt Tenaglia(Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks East), who missed the entire season due to injury after hitting .341 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs in 2011. The Dukes also anticipate a full season of senior outfielder Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge), who was limited to half of JMU’s games a year ago but ranks in the top 10 at JMU for career on-base percentage (.454). Other returning field players include sophomore infielder Chad Carroll (Oakton, Va./Oakton, .279, 28 RBIs, 13 SB), senior infielder Casey Goss (Springfield, Va./Glendale, .288, 26 RBIs, 21 SB), senior outfielder Colby Roberts (Benton, Ark./Benton, .262, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs) and senior catcher/infielder Bradley Shaban (Midlothian, Va./Cosby, .260, 41 RBIs).
On the mound, JMU’s pitching staff is built around a core of talented freshmen and sophomores and returns players who accounted for nearly 70 percent of last year’s innings. Sophomores Patrick Toohers (Florham Park, N.J./Seton Hall Prep, 2-3, 4.29 ERA, 65 IP) and Michael Howerton (Chesterfield, Va./Matoaca, 1-4, 6.52 ERA) will seek further progression after spending much of last year in the starting rotation. Fellow sophomores Ben Garner (Burke, Va./Paul VI, 2-3, 6.64 ERA) and newcomer Luke Drayer (Hummelstown, Pa./Hershey) are also expected to contend for starting roles. Sophomore Chris Huffman (Fort Defiance, Va./Fort Defiance, 3-5, 4.53 ERA) will anchor the bullpen joined by junior Trent Cundiff (Roanoke, Va./Northside, 4-1, 25 appearances), sophomore Aaron Hoover (Centreville, Va./Westfield, 0-2, 6.55 ERA) and Bladel.
JMU officially begins practice Friday (Jan. 25) and opens its season with a three-game series at Coastal Carolina Feb. 15-17. The Dukes then play 18 of their next 19 games at home at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park, beginning with the home opener Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. against Longwood.
2013 CAA BASEBALL PRESEASON PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. UNCW (5 first-place votes) 75
2. Hofstra (3 first-place votes) 69
3. James Madison 62
4. Delaware (2 first-place votes) 57
5. George Mason 49
6. Old Dominion 32
7. William and Mary 30
8. Towson 28
9. Northeastern 27
10. Georgia State 21
2013 PRESEASON ALL-CAA BASEBALL TEAM
John Puttress, Northeastern, C, Sr., New Providence, N.J., .323, 0 HR, 29 RBI
Jared Hammer, Hofstra, 1B, Sr., Flemington, N.J., .376, 4 HR, 66 RBI
Jimmy Yezzo, Delaware, 1B, Jr., Cherry Hill, N.J., .358, 8 HR, 46 RBI
Michael Bass, UNCW, 2B, Sr., Fairmont, N.C., .326, 33 RBI, 20 SB
Dalton Rouleau, Hofstra, SS, Sr., Lompoc, Calif., .328, 31 RBI, 26 SB
Ryan Lindemuth, William & Mary, 3B, Jr., Burke, Va., .376, 5 HR, 48 RBI
Aaron Barbosa, Northeastern, OF, Jr., Dracut, Mass., .352, 20 RBI, 14 SB
Tyler Molinaro, UNCW, OF, Sr., Charlottesville, Va., .273, 16 HR, 48 RBI
Hunter Ridge, UNCW, OF, Sr., Asheboro, N.C., .340, 4 HR, 41 RBI
Brendan Butler, Towson, UT, So., Bel Air, Md., .308, 34 RBI, 14 SB
Conner Brown, James Madison, DH, Jr., Richmond, Va., .338, 3 HR, 33 RBI
Mat Batts, UNCW, SP, Jr., Winston-Salem, N.C., 6-5, 3.04 ERA, 90 K’s
Michael Trionfo, Towson, SP, Sr., Jacksonville, Md., 11-3, 3.35 ERA, 52 K’s
Kelly Secrest, UNCW, RP, Jr., Mt. Airy, N.C., 5-2, 1 sv., 2.12 ERA, 45 K’s
CAA Preseason Co-Players of the Year: Jared Hammer, Hofstra and Jimmy Yezzo, Delaware
Honorable Mention (players receiving multiple votes): Matt Reistetter, C, Hofstra; Ty Warrington, C, Delaware; D.J. Long, 2B, Delaware; Caden Bailey, So., SS, Georgia State; Jason Vosler, 3B, Northeastern; Blaise Fernandez, 3B, George Mason; Ty McFarland, 3B, James Madison; Kenny Jackson, OF, Hofstra; ColeMcInturff, OF, James Madison; Corey Dick, DH, UNCW; Chad Kuhl, SP, Delaware; John Tiedemann, SP, Hofstra; John Farrell, RP, William & Mary; Brandon Smith, RP, Old Dominion