Delaware built an 8-2 advantage through five innings, then staved off James Madison’s comeback attempt by stranding seven runners in the final three innings to record an 8-7 win in the opener of a Colonial Athletic Association baseball series on Thursday afternoon at Bob Hannah Stadium.
UD improved to 31-19 overall and 14-11 in the CAA to remain in third place. JMU fell to 23-27 overall and 10-14 in the CAA. The Dukes still sit sixth place among tournament-eligible teams, remaining a half game back of Northeastern, which fell to Towson 14-1 during the afternoon. Madison’s lead for the final spot dropped to one game over Hofstra, which hosts UNCW in a three-game set beginning with a Friday doubleheader at noon.
Delaware grabbed a quick lead with four runs from its first four batters of the game. The Blue Hens continued to put on early pressure, building its advantage to 8-2 after five innings before JMU fought its way back into the game.
Freshman right-hander Mark Gunst (Fairfax, Va./Paul VI) stymied the Blue Hens to the tune of one unearned run allowed on one hit in 5 2/3 innings to give JMU a chance. The Dukes finally got to Delaware ace Chad Kuhl in the sixth and seventh to chase him from the game.
Madison plated three runs in the seventh to make it a 8-6 game but left the bases loaded. The Dukes added one run in the eighth but stranded runners on first and second in each the eighth and ninth innings. JMU actually ended up leading UD in hits 10-8 but left 10 men on base.
Kuhl (10-2) became Delaware’s first 10-game winner in 12 years despite being tagged for six runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings. He entered the game having surrendered one unearned run in his previous 16 innings. Eric Buckland survived a walk and two hit batters in the final two innings to pick up his fifth save.
Redshirt sophomore Michael Howerton (Chesterfield, Va./Matoaca) took the loss after giving up seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings. Gunst worked 5 2/3 innings of relief with his only run allowed scoring unearned on a wild pitch.
Right fielder Nick Ferdinand was 2-for-4 with two runs, two RBIs and a two-run home run in the first for Delaware. First baseman Jimmy Yezzo and designated hitter Chris Branigan each drove in two runs with a double.
Junior first baseman Ty McFarland was 2-for-5 with two RBIs for the Dukes. Sophomore left fielder Chad Carroll (Oakton, Va./Oakton) and senior third baseman Bradley Shaban (Midlothian, Va./Cosby) each had a pair of hits. Senior center fielder Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) reached base three times with two walks, a hit by pitch and two runs scored. His 50 walks for the season moved him to third in JMU history. Senior shortstop Casey Goss (Springfield, Mo./Glenville) singled and walked twice.
JMU got off to a good start against the Blue Hens’ ace with a walk by Bladel followed quickly by a RBI double by McFarland. Senior right fielder Colby Roberts (Benton, Ark./Benton) advanced the runner to third with a sacrifice bunt, and McFarland scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Carroll.
However, the lead proved short-lived for the Dukes as Delaware put up four runs with its first four batters of the game. Second baseman D.J. Long singled through the left side and left fielder Tyler Powell reached on a high pop that fell in right field for a single. Yezzo plated both with a double and Ferdinand followed with a two-run home run to make it 4-2.
In the second, Delaware put its first two batters on via a single and an error on a bunt attempt. A passed ball advanced the runners and a sacrifice fly by Powell scored the fifth run. UD made it 7-2 with a two-run double by Branigan in the third and added an eighth run on a wild pitch in the fifth. However, Gunst retired the last 11 Blue Hens in order following the wild pitch in order to keep the Dukes in the game.
Junior second baseman Conner Brown (Richmond, Va./Godwin) doubled in Carroll in the sixth. Madison then plated three runs in the seventh with a groundout by freshman catcher Bobby San Martin (Fairfax, Va./Centreville), an RBI single by McFarland and a wild pitch. The Dukes left the bases loaded in the inning.
Madison kept up the pressure in the eighth as walk and double put the tying run in scoring position with no out. Senior Cole McInturff (Centreville, Va./Westfield) lifted a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to make it 8-7. A hit by pitch put two runners on with one out before a popup and groundout ended the frame. The Dukes again had two runners reach base in the ninth but couldn’t find the RBI hit in the one-run loss.
JMU and Delaware meet again Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. The Dukes still need a combination of wins over Delaware or losses by Hofstra that adds to two.