Excitement level high for 2020 JMU baseball season

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HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Practice is underway for the James Madison baseball team as the Dukes prepare for the 2020 season.

Practice is underway for the James Madison baseball team as the Dukes prepare for the 2020 season.

JMU is coming off a 2019 season in which the Dukes won 31 games and earned a trip to the CAA Tournament. However, members of this year's squad say they believe JMU has a chance to perform even better in 2020.

"We have all the pieces to the puzzle," said JMU head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "That's something, I would say in the past, we haven't had all the pieces to the puzzle and then the biggest thing is having those young guys step up in roles where they can be successful."

Despite losing four pitchers to the MLB Draft from last year's team, the pitching staff is again expected to be a strength for JMU this spring. Junior RHP Nick Stewart returns after spending the last two seasons in the weekend rotation. Redshirt junior RHP Michael Bechtold and junior RHP Justin Showalter, a local product from Turner Ashby High School, are considered to be the favorites to the land the other two spots in the weekend rotation. The Dukes' bullpen features a deep group of young pitchers led by veteran returners including redshirt senior LHP Brett Ayer and junior RHP Grayson Jones.

"I think this year, we maybe don't have as many holes as we did in the past," said Showalter. "Every spot is filled. We got the hitting and the pitching hopefully coming together and hopefully we can be a complete team to maybe make a run at a CAA Championship."

Offensively, the Dukes return a roster full of experience. Tre Dabney, who was a breakout star as a freshman third baseman last season, could see time in the outfield to make room for the return of infielder Josh Jones. Jones was a standout as a freshman in 2018 before missing all of last season to focus on academics. First baseman Brady Harju, shortstop Nick Zona, utility player Fox Semones, DH Kyle Novak, outfielder Conor Hartigan, and catcher Kyle Hayes are just a few of the other returning position players who are expected to have a big impact in 2020.

"This team has everybody back," said Dabney. "Our chemistry is perfect. The only thing...we lost a couple pitchers but we still got guys in our bullpen that can get the job done."

JMU opens the 2020 season with a three-game series at No. 16 NC State starting Friday, February 14.