Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Nick Stevens
In last week’s initial CAA power rankings, I slotted JMU fifth and specifically mentioned outfielders Fox Semones and DaVonn Griffin as two players who needed to immediately step up if JMU is going to be a threat in the CAA.
They did exactly that as the Dukes took two of three against Delaware last weekend in their first CAA series. Semones finished 4-9 with a home run, four runs scored and three runs driven in, while Griffin also went 4-9, driving in four runs over the three games. Both players have the ability and skill sets to be two of the hardest players in the conference to contain. They can bunt for a hit, send it over the wall, find the gaps and change a game on the basepaths. They’re also veterans in a lineup full of freshmen.
JMU now hits the road for a weekend series against Elon, riding a three-game winning streak (defeated VMI 9-8 on Wednesday). Elon took two of three against a very good College of Charleston team last weekend and is coming off a 21-2 loss against North Carolina State, a top-5 team in the country.
The Dukes dropped two of three against Elon last season and hold a 3-11 all-time record against the Phoenix (1-7 on the road). Many publications projected Elon to win the CAA before the season started and prospect evaluators love its pitching staff, which might be underrated, if that’s possible. For the Dukes, a lineup of fearless, and very patient, freshmen just might be the trick for taking this series.
CAA Power Rankings (March 29)
- Elon Phoenix (13-12, 2-1) (No change)
The Phoenix outscored Charleston 16-11 last weekend, taking their CAA-opening series against a team that can easily win the conference this season. Friday starter Kyle Brnovich allowed only one hit across seven innings in a losing effort, while George Kirby improved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 2.95. His two walks last Saturday skyrocketed his walk total to three in 36.2 innings. First baseman Joe Scatterfield is riding an 11-game hit streak and has been held hitless just three times in 25 games.
2) Charleston Cougars (16-10, 1-2) (No change)
The bullpen continued to be an effective weapon for the Cougars, who dropped two of three to Elon. They remain in the two spot after challenging the top-ranked Phoenix and winning two midweek games, outscoring The Citadel and Charleston Southern 20-8. Charleston can rebound this weekend with a series against Hofstra. Friday starter Griffin McLarty remains hot and is now 3-2 with 1.88 ERA, 42 strikeouts, and only four extra-base hits allowed in 38.1 innings.
3) UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (15-11, 3-0) (No change)
The Seahawks were the only team to go undefeated through the first weekend of CAA play, sweeping Towson. UNCW then split a series against No. 12 Coastal Carolina. It returns home to take on William and Mary this weekend. Shortstop Greg Jones has a hit in 10 of his last 11 games, six of which have been multi-hit games. He is now hitting .304 this season with 19 stolen bases. As a team, UNCW leads the CAA in triples and home runs and has, arguably, the most explosive lineup in the CAA.
4) James Madison Dukes (18-8, 2-1) (+1 spot)
After dropping game one against Delaware, JMU outscored the Blue Hens 18-6 to capture the series. Saturday starter Nick Stewart won his third-straight decision and recorded a season-high eight strikeouts. His dominant performance earned him CAA Pitcher of the Week honors.
The Dukes are second in the CAA in team batting average (.265) and lead the league in on-base percentage (.375). Leadoff hitter Tre Dabney added five hits to his season total, including two home runs. The freshman is now hitting .345 with five home runs and providing Marlin Ikenberry’s lineup with instant momentum in each contest. Their next eight games consist of three against both Elon and College of Charleston and home games against Richmond and UVA. A strong run during this stretch will set the Dukes up nicely for the final stretch of the season.
5) Northeastern Huskies (12-12, 2-1) (+1 spot)
The Huskies barely escaped with a series win against William & Mary and were actually outscored by the Tribe, 25-20. They followed up a 15-4 loss to W&M with an 8-0 loss to Rhode Island earlier this week.
Other than Sean Mellen (3-0, 1.06 ERA, 1.03 WHIP), no Northeastern starting pitcher has an ERA under 4.02. Three pitchers who the Huskies have used as starters feature ERAs over 7.00. Getting through the CAA without strong pitching is nearly impossible. They take on Delaware in my surprise series to keep an eye on this weekend. Don’t be shocked if the Blue Hens take this series on the road.
6) William & Mary Tribe (16-7, 1-2) (-2 spots)
The Tribe outscored Northeastern and then put up 16 runs against Norfolk State this week. They have big wins over VCU and UVA already and are putting together a season much like JMU. Both teams are owning the plate and grinding out smart wins. There isn’t one singular hitter or pitcher who the Tribe rely on, instead winning games in true team fashion.
The pitching staff doesn’t strike many people out and has worked well with runners on base, thus far. They face their biggest test of the season this weekend. William & Mary travels to UNCW to face the most dangerous lineup in the CAA, but don’t count out the Tribe’s ability to match UNCW’s performance at the plate with catcher Hunter Smith in the lineup. The senior is hitting .345 with seven home runs and a .442 OBP.
7) Delaware Blue Hens (6-17, 1-2) (+2 spots)
The Blue Hens started the year 0-13 and have since rattled off a 6-4 record, including a big win over JMU’s Kevin Kelly last Friday in Harrisonburg. The Delaware team that played Friday night was more like the typical Delaware team we have seen over the years and showed more than enough to believe it can take a series against Northeastern this weekend.
Friday night starter Brandon Walter has given up just two earned runs and fanned 29 hitters in his last three starts, lasting at least six innings in each. He struck out 10 JMU hitters in his last start, preventing one of the top offenses in the CAA from getting anything going in the wind and freezing cold.
8) Hofstra Pride (3-15, 0-0) (-1 spot)
Hofstra will finally open CAA play this weekend, going on the road to face the College of Charleston. The Pride have yet to play a home game this season, believe it or not. Since picking up a win against the Liberty Flames back on March 17, Hofstra has dropped four straight and been outscored 30-8. If you add Hofstra’s home runs, doubles and triples, it doesn’t add up to Towson’s 29 doubles, which ranks 8th in the CAA. As a team, Hofstra is hitting just .203.
9) Towson Tigers (3-19, 0-3) (-1 spot)
Towson dropped all three games against UNCW and was outscored by 11 runs. It is currently riding a seven-game losing streak. The Tigers rank last in the CAA, by a large amount, in on-base percentage and fielding percentage, leading to big deficits and an inability to chip away at them. They travel to Florida this weekend for a non-conference series against Florida Gulf Coast.