Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Nick Stevens
If you really want to find out what the 2019 JMU Diamond Dukes are made of, this week may tell us exactly that. After a midweek series in Harrisonburg against Lehigh, followed by an immediate cross-country flight to make history against Cal State Fullerton, the Dukes returned to Veterans Memorial Park for a two-game set against Fairfield University, completing a seven-game stretch across nine days and more than 5,000 travel miles.
The Dukes split their midweek series against the Stags, sending their record to 15-7 on the season, including a 13-3 mark at home. After taking game one by a score of 4-2, JMU fell on Wednesday afternoon, 9-2. It was the first weekday loss of the season for Marlin Ikenberry’s team (6-1).
A sweep over a Fairfield team who entered the week with a 4-10 record would have been ideal, but taking two straight games after such a quick turnaround from their California trip was going to prove difficult, no matter the opponent. There were still a few big takeaways from this series.
I spent a lot of time focusing on Tre Dabney in this series. The two-time CAA Player of the Week went 2-5 at the plate with three walks from the leadoff spot and was also hit by a pitch for the 11th time this season. When you scan over the field, Dabney draws your attention. He’s one of the most athletic players on the field and when you watch his approach and swing you can see the potential.
Dabney has an advanced eye at the plate, posting an astounding on-base percentage just south of .500 through 22 games. Once he gets on base, the effect on the opposing pitcher is unlike when any other player reaches base. Fairfield pitchers struggled to find the plate with Dabney on first base, focusing more on the potential of a stolen base. It’s very hard not to overreact to his fast start. In the last 4-5 years I have been paying close attention to the CAA as a whole, I don’t recall a third baseman with Dabney’s skill set and baseball IQ.
The second big positive from this series was starting pitcher Justin Showalter. A local product from Turner Ashby High School, Showalter gave up three runs on four hits across 6 2/3 innings on Wednesday, producing four strikeouts along the way.
Coming off a six-inning, 11-strikeout win against Lehigh last week, Showalter lowered his ERA to 4.08 on the season and was solid throughout his outing, despite being credited with the loss.
The 6’1” right-handed sophomore used his 90 mph fastball to carve his way through the Fairfield lineup. The Stags struggled to catch up to his fastball and were kept off balance with the amount of arm-side run on the pitch. Left-handed hitters were caught leaning back a few times, only to watch Showalter’s fastball run back over the plate. He held his velocity over the course of six-plus innings and commanded his secondary pitches extremely well. When a sophomore weekday starter can throw three-straight offspeed pitches to a hitter and produce three swings and misses, you better pay attention.
I would love to see him get a weekend start early in CAA play to see if he can continue to produce groundballs and weak contact against better competition. Regardless, JMU has four solid starters they can rely on, with a budding fifth starter in Michael Bechtold and one of the top bullpens in the entire country. The pitching will keep the Dukes in most ballgames. Will the lineup be able to consistently help them out?
The Dukes return to Veterans Memorial Park this weekend as they open conference play against the Delaware Blue Hens (4-15).