Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Nick Stevens
Last weekend at Veterans Memorial Park, one of the top pitching staffs in the conference squared off against the top lineup in the conference. The advantage went to the offense as the College of Charleston completed a sweep over the JMU Dukes.
Despite scoring a combined 13 runs on 21 hits across Saturday and Sunday, JMU extended its conference losing streak to six straight games, dropping it to seventh place in the CAA. If the season ended today, the Dukes would, once again, be watching the CAA tournament from the bleachers of their home stadium. Overall, the Diamond Dukes have lost eight straight games.
Tre Dabney continues to terrorize opposing pitchers, hitting .343 and reaching base at a .504 clip and Fox Semones has upped his batting average to .236 with a current five-game hitting streak, but wins continue to elude the Dukes.
JMU now travels to William & Mary, pitting the Dukes against a Tribe team currently riding a five-game losing streak. After climbing the power rankings and racking up big wins, the Tribe were swept by Delaware, in a series I told you to watch closely. It may not have been the highest scoring series, as I predicted, but it did shake up the CAA.
Allow me to look into my crystal ball and make another bold prediction while we look at this week’s CAA power rankings.
CAA Power Rankings (April 12)
1) Elon Phoenix (18-15, 7-2) (No change)
The most shocking game of last weekend came between Elon and Towson. Geoge Kirby, who was previously undefeated, suffered his first loss of the year against a Towson team struggling to hit .200 and reach a .300 team OBP. Elon did rebound, scoring 16 runs on Sunday. Infielder Joe Satterfield is hitting .387 and has 12 hits during his current seven-game hitting streak.
It is worth keeping a close eye on the Phoenix. Their pitching staff leads the league in strikeouts and limits opponents to the second-lowest batting average in the CAA, however, they also lead the league in walks and their team ERA has jumped to 5.10. They get Delaware this weekend in a series that suddenly looks much difficult than it did one week ago.
2) Charleston Cougars (22-11, 7-2) (No change)
The Cougars get the CAA bye this weekend, taking on non-conference opponent Dallas Baptist. Their six-game CAA winning streak remains intact for another week. Coming off a sweep of JMU, Charleston used late-game hitting and the longball to take down the Dukes. Entering last weekend, Charleston was just 1-5 on the road. Three wins at the site of the CAA tournament could be a huge boost for this team come tournament time.
Friday night starter Griffin McLarty put on quite the show in Harrisonburg last Friday. He gave up one run across nine innings, striking out eight in the process and outdueling Kevin Kelly. I’m all in on a George Kirby/Griffin McLarty showdown for the CAA title at VMP next month.
3) Northeastern Huskies (16-16, 6-3) (+1 spot)
When I started doing these rankings, I initially had Northeastern sixth. The Huskies have continued to climb one spot per week and finally made me a believer. Starting pitcher Sean Mellen remained undefeated after striking out 12 Hofstra Pride hitters across seven innings. The lefty is 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA and 58 strikeouts in his eight starts. The Huskies have won every CAA series they have played and travel to UNCW this weekend in a series that likely features a few low-scoring contests.
4) UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (18-16, 3-3) (+1 spot)
The Seahawks have played five-straight nonconference games, going 3-2 over that span, including a 9-1 loss to a highly ranked ECU team. UNCW pitchers have allowed the fewest home runs in the CAA (nine) and have allowed the lowest batting average (.224). Their offense ranks in the upper half of the CAA in most major offensive categories. As long as shortstop Greg Jones leads the way, the Seahawks are going to be a pesky team in the CAA. Jones is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak with 11 hits. A series win over Northeastern will be bad news for the likes of JMU and William & Mary who need wins now to make the CAA tournament.
5) William & Mary Tribe (20-12, 4-5) (-3 spots)
The Tribe dropped all three games against Delaware last weekend, followed by two non-conference losses on the road to Maryland and George Washington. Is the magic over? The Tribe sit sixth in the CAA and can separate themselves from seventh-place JMU with a series win. The offense has scored 22 runs in their last three games. Friday night starter Bodie Sheehan gave up seven runs on 11 hits last time out against the Dukes, who the Tribe welcome in this weekend.
6) Delaware Blue Hens (12-20, 5-4) (+1 spot)
After watching just one game of the Blue Hens in person, I saw everything I needed to see. This team won’t go down quietly in the conference. Delaware is 2-15 on the road and travels to Elon this weekend. As long as they can keep Elon in single digits, Delaware may be able to expose some of the weaknesses I mentioned earlier. As long as the Hens take one game, they will keep themselves in a good position for making the CAA tournament.
7) James Madison Dukes (18-16, 2-7) (-1 spot)
The Dukes have suffered eight-straight losses and now hit the road for a set against William & Mary. Tre Dabney is back in the lineup, which is a huge victory for JMU. Unfortunately, Kevin Kelly has lost three straight decisions and has seen his ERA jump from 0.93 to 3.17 during that stretch. The Dukes are currently two games behind the Tribe for sixth place in the CAA and a tournament birth. There are still 15 conference games on the schedule, but the final six come against Northeastern and UNCW, on the road. JMU is 3-7 on the road.
The Dukes need a big spark, immediately. Fans filled VMP on Tuesday against UVA, but the energy quickly left the stadium as fans filtered out and conversations turned sour.
8) Hofstra Pride (6-22, 1-5) (No change)
Hofstra won game one against Northeastern last weekend, but ultimately dropped the series and now gets a three-game set against Towson. Winner of the series moves out of last place and remains within reach of a CAA tournament birth. Hofstra has played just four home games all season and finishes their CAA slate with 12 of 18 at home. It’s baseball. Literally, anything can happen.
9) Towson Tigers (5-26, 1-5) (No change)
Towson has struggled to hit the ball all year, but is finding their groove. They took down one of the top pitchers in the CAA in George Kirby and have scored 31 runs in their last four games, including a win over George Mason. Here’s my big prediction this week. Towson sweeps Hofstra, then takes their next series against Delaware, causing chaos in the bottom half of the CAA. Book it.