Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Nick Stevens
After a win over the Richmond Spiders on Tuesday afternoon, the JMU Diamond Dukes return to Harrisonburg with a 1-3 opening week record, suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the No. 16 Wolfpack of North Carolina State over the weekend.
Despite dropping three straight to open the season, there were a number of positive takeaways from the first week of competition the Dukes can take with them into their four-game homestand this weekend against Quinnipiac.
Nick Stewart will be just fine
The biggest takeaway from the weekend was the performance of Friday night starter Nick Stewart. Stewart took the loss on Opening Night against the Wolfpack, but the junior right-handed pitcher surrendered just two earned runs on three hits, striking out eight in four innings of work.
Running deep into counts and walks (issued three free passes) quickly rose his pitch count to 108 after four frames, but Stewart had his secondary pitches working and was successful in keeping NC State hitters in check, including Wolfpack catcher Patrick Bailey, a projected Top-10 pick in this year’s MLB draft. Bailey was held hitless and struck out twice.
Considered one of the top draft eligible prospects in the CAA, Stewart has clearly taken a step forward in his development. The command will come, the weather will warm up, he will get even stronger, and fans will see quite the show when they come out to Veterans Memorial Park on Friday afternoons.
Eye-opening freshmen performances
Last season we saw the emergence of Tre Dabney, Kyle Novak and Nick Zona for the Dukes, a trio of freshmen who are now regulars in the lineup and have quickly established themselves as some of the top talents in the CAA. As expected, a new group of freshmen have made their presence known early on.
Outfielder/LHP Chase DeLauter saw action in left field with Dabney unavailable for action this week (undisclosed injury) and finished his first four games in a JMU uniform with a .500 batting average (8-16), a .600 on-base percentage, and seven runs driven in, including reaching base in four of his six plate appearances against Richmond on Tuesday. The reigning West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year showed an advanced approach at the plate, a smooth swing from the left side, and an ability to dig himself out of pitcher’s counts.
He also started Sunday’s game, giving up six runs on five hits and three walks in 2.1 innings, however, the 6’2” lefty has the makings of a power pitcher with a wipeout slider and intimidating presence on the mound. DeLauter’s ceiling may be the highest on this 2020 roster.
Relief pitcher Hunter Entsminger didn’t let facing a Top-25 program in his first action as a Duke phase him. The righty from Stephens City, VA pitched 2.1 scoreless innings on Saturday, striking out five Wolfpack hitters. Entsminger attacked hitters early in counts with his slider and curveball and used his fastball to keep hitters honest throughout his outing. He reminded me very much of RHP Matt Marsili, who graduated from the program last year. Entsminger oozes confidence on the mound and he isn’t afraid to go right after hitters to get the job done, similar to Marsili’s bulldog mentality.
Kyle Novak is really good
We knew last season that Novak was a great hitter, finishing second on the team with a .303 average and striking out just 18 times in 55 games. However, his success seemed to be overshadowed by last year’s dominant pitching staff and the emergence of Dabney. Novak is a professional hitter with a very bright future in Harrisonburg.
The sophomore lefty went 6-18 (.333 average) with a double and three RBI through the first four games of the season. If the middle of the batting order behind Novak can settle in, he will see even more success as the season moves along.
Elsewhere around the roster, senior Fox Semones hit the team’s first two home runs of the season on Tuesday in a 12-4 win over the Spiders. He reached base in eight of his 15 plate appearances this week. Fellow infielder Nick Zona also had a successful week, chipping in five hits and flashing the leather in his return to the field for the first time since an injury ended his freshman campaign early.
Local product Justin Showalter earned the win against Richmond, throwing two scoreless innings with three strikeouts in his midweek start. Showalter also tossed two innings on Opening Night, giving up one run on one hit with two strikeouts.
The Dukes welcome in Quinnipiac this weekend for a four-game set. The Bobcats dropped all three games against UT-San Antonio over the weekend. They finished last season with a 30-29 record, but swept their way through the MAAC conference tournament, earning a trip to the NCAA Regionals where they defeated host East Carolina before dropping their next two games.