Senior second baseman Conner Brown’s (Richmond, Va./Godwin) one-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth lifted James Madison to a 6-5 victory over UNCW after six unanswered runs in the opening game of the first Colonial Athletic Association baseball series of the season on Friday night at Eagle Field at Veterans Memorial Park.
JMU improved to 9-14 overall and won its CAA opener for the second year in a row. The Dukes snapped a five-game skid and had dropped nine of their previous 11 games. UNCW fell to 11-13 overall and 0-1 in the league.
Madison trailed 5-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth before Brown and junior center fielder/pitcher Kevin Husum (Panama City, Fla./Bay) helped fuel a rally. JMU plated one run in the sixth and struck for four in the seventh to tie the score at 5-5 on Brown’s infield single.
UNCW loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth on a first-pitch hit batter to lead off. The Dukes then tried to get the leadoff runner on a sacrifice bunt attempt but were unsuccessful. The first walk of the game for the Seahawks loaded the bases. Husum fell behind three balls and one strike but recovered to strike out Josh Abshire. He then got the 4-6-3 double play on Luis Renvill to escape unscathed and preserve the tie.
With one out and facing one of the CAA’s top relievers in left-hander Kelly Secrest, sophomore Tyler Carroll (Oakton, Va./Oakton) battled for a full-count walk. He moved to third base on Husum’s fourth hit of the game, a single to right field. UNCW then elected to walk senior third baseman Ty McFarland (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby) to set up the force out at home plate. Brown calmly delivered the second pitch he saw through the left side of the infield for the game winner to score Carroll.
Husum tallied a career-high four hits for the Dukes after previously achieving three hits on four occasions in the first 22 games. He scored twice, drove in a run and earned the win on the mound to improve to 2-0 after escaping from the ninth-inning jam. Brown matched his season high with his fourth three-hit game of the 2014 campaign while driving in a run on each of the three hits. Brown and Husum combined for seven of JMU’s 12 hits. Senior designated hitter Nick Merullo (Madison, Conn./Daniel Hand) added a key two-run double during the four-run uprising in the seventh.
Both starters cruised through the first five innings with redshirt sophomore Aaron Hoover (Centreville, Va./Westfield) allowing just one run to that point before leaving the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and being tagged with four runs on eight hits. Junior right-hander Patrick Toohers (Florham Park, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) was solid for three innings of relief allowing one run.
Mat Batts was lights out for UNCW allowing just two hits through the first five innings and retiring 12 JMU batters in a row over one stretch. He struck out eight but was ultimately strapped with four runs allowed on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings thanks to JMU’s rally in the seventh. Secrest took the loss after allowing an inherited runner to score the tying run in the seventh and then allowing the game winner in the ninth. He recorded four of his five outs via strikeouts but allowed the one run on three hits.
Third baseman Ryan LaGrange was 2-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt, a run scored and two RBIs to pace the UNCW offense. Center fielder Casey Golden and left fielder Robbie Thorburn also had two-hit games.
After having a runner picked off third to end the first, the Seahawks again put a runner on third in the second with two outs. This time catcher Drew Farber struck for a single to right field to drive in the run for a 1-0 lead.
With both offenses quiet through the early innings, UNCW finally broke away in the sixth. The Seahawks loaded the bases on a tapped infield single, a single that snuck through the left side and a bunt infield single. After a pitching change, LaGrange singled to drive in two runs and first baseman Corey Dick’s groundout made it 4-0. With two outs, Thorburn sliced a sharp single to left to make it 5-0.
Batts retired 12 in a row until Husum’s one-out double in the sixth. With two outs, Brown doubled to put the first JMU run on the board.
Madison appeared poised to go down quietly in the seventh after a pair of flyouts. However, singles by Johnson and Gregory set up runners on the corners with two outs to begin a two-out rally. Merullo then placed his sharp double just in front of the diving outfielder with the ball going all the way to the wall to score two runs and make it 5-3. After a pitching change, Husum’s third hit of the game landed just over the outstretched glove of the second baseman to make it 5-4. The Seahawks then turned to Secrest with runners on the corners and two outs. On a 2-2 count, Brown hit a hard liner off Secrest’s foot and narrowly slid into first in time to plate the tying run at 5-5.
JMU and UNCW are scheduled to contest game two of the series on Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. weather permitting. Any weather changes will be communicated via JMUSports.com as well as the @JMUBaseball Twitter account.