Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Nick Stevens
Just over halfway through the 2019 season, the JMU Diamond Dukes find themselves at 18-12 overall and 2-4 in the CAA, tied with Delaware for sixth place in the conference. The Dukes also find themselves in need of wins after dropping their last four decisions, including three-straight to CAA-foe Elon.
JMU stays home this weekend, where the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Marlin Ikenberry’s team will square off against the College of Charleston (19-11, 4-2). The Cougars lead the CAA in batting average and home runs and bring a steady pitching staff.
Will the Dukes have their reliable third baseman and leadoff man this weekend? Tre Dabney exited last Saturday’s game (was hit by a pitch) and didn’t play in Sunday’s series finale against Elon or Tuesday’s game against Richmond (a 3-1 loss).
Dabney leads the Dukes in batting average (.341), OPS (1.080), home runs (5), on-base percentage (.487), stolen bases (9) and many more offensive categories.
This is the point in the season that concerned me the most when looking at the schedule before the start of the year. The Dukes are 30 games into the season and enter a crucial stretch of their schedule with series against Charleston and William & Mary. Can this freshman-heavy lineup continue to push through and make the CAA race even more interesting?
Here’s where the Dukes stand heading into week three of CAA play.
CAA Power Rankings (April 5)
1. Elon Phoenix (16-12, 5-1) (No change)
The Phoenix swept JMU last weekend, outscoring the Dukes 18-6 and using their elite pitching staff to guide the way. George Kirby improved to 5-0 after throwing a complete game on Saturday, allowing one unearned run on four hits. He struck out eight and did not walk a single JMU hitter, an impressive feat against a patient JMU lineup. The Phoenix rank in the middle of the pack in team batting average and OBP, but their timing of key hits has been the difference. They get Towson this weekend, which has dropped 11 straight.
2) Charleston Cougars (19-11, 4-2) (No change)
Charleston also swept their CAA series last weekend, outscoring Hofstra 32-4. The starting pitching staff struck out 28 Hofstra hitters and recorded two combined shutouts. Friday night starter Griffin McLarty has allowed a .179 batting average and just five extra-base hits in 46 innings, while catcher Danny Wondrack is hitting .333 with seven home runs. The Cougars enter this weekend with a 1-5 road record. A series win on the road against a JMU team likely heading to the CAA tournament is a must this weekend.
3) William & Mary Tribe (20-7, 4-2) (+3 spots)
Last week, I tagged either JMU, Delaware or William & Mary as being a team to shake up the CAA (I know, easy to say I called it when I picked 33% of the league). William & Mary went above and beyond, sweeping UNC-Wilmington. The Tribe also picked up a midweek win against Maryland. They now travel to Delaware, riding the longest winning streak in the CAA at five games.
Their 3.35 team ERA is tops in the CAA, while the offense has the highest OBP in the league. Good things happen when you get on base. As I’ve said every week, no one really stands out on this team, which is a good thing in this case. Everyone is doing their job and come tournament time, consistency is key. Watch out for the Tribe.
4) Northeastern Huskies (14-14, 4-2) (+1 spot)
The Huskies have now moved up one spot per week since my initial rankings and are coming off a series win against Delaware in which they scored 32 runs. The Blue Hens did touch up Huskies’ premier starter Sean Mellen for two runs off five hits, sending his ERA to 1.35 on the season and upping his total hits allowed to 21. He’s dominant and is capable of throwing a quality start every time he walks to the mound. They get Hofstra this weekend before a stretch against UNCW, Charleston, and Elon.
5) UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (15-14, 3-3) (-2 spots)
They were the only team to go undefeated in week one of CAA play, but dropped three straight to the surging Tribe. The combo of Cole Weiss and Greg Jones went just 6-31 over the weekend. They are one of the best 1-2 punches in any CAA lineup and as they go, so does the UNCW offense. The Seahawks are this week’s team on a CAA bye, taking on Kennesaw State in nonconference action.
6) James Madison Dukes (18-12, 2-4) (-2 spots)
The Dukes have dropped four straight and enter must-win territory. The pitching staff remains dominant. They have a 3.58 ERA which is good for second in the CAA and they lead the conference in strikeouts by a wide margin with 291 in 30 games. The offense ranks in the top third of the league in batting average, OBP and stolen bases, but key hits have eluded the Dukes. Too many times, JMU has left the bases loaded during this recent streak. As long as the rotation can keep the Dukes in games and the lineup can put up a few early runs, the bullpen remains dominant and able to shut down opponents late. It’s still early in CAA play, but JMU can’t find themselves outside the top six this early.
7) Delaware Blue Hens (8-19, 2-4) (No change)
Delaware stays home for a weekend series against William Mary, after dropping a series to Northeastern. If you like offense, I’m tagging this series as potentially the highest scoring series of the weekend. The Blue Hens have been streaky on offense but you get the feeling they are due for a huge weekend at some point this season. Junior infielder Vinny Vaccone has hit in 11 of his last 12 games and is on a six-game hitting streak. Will the Blue Hens breakthrough or will the Tribe continue to plow their way through the CAA?
8) Hofstra Pride (4-19, 0-3) (No change)
Hofstra scored just four runs in three games last weekend against Charleston and is now hitting .201 as a team. The pitching staff has a league-worst 7.19 ERA and is allowing opponents to hit .309. They have played just two home games, but that isn’t the issue here.
9) Towson Tigers (3-23, 0-3) (No change)
Florida Gulf Coast put up 20 runs against the Tigers last Sunday as Towson runs its current losing streak to 11 games, this includes a mid-week loss to George Washington. The Tigers now get Elon this weekend at home.