Dukes win CAA Tournament, clinch NCAA berth
James Madison plated six runs in the second inning and senior Alex Valadja (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Catholic) limited Old Dominion to four hits over six innings to record a 10-1 win and capture the 2011 Colonial Athletic Association baseball championship on Saturday afternoon at Brooks Field.
JMU (40-17), ranked 30th nationally by Collegiate Baseball newspaper, improved the nation’s longest winning streak to nine games and won for the 13th straight time against CAA teams. The Dukes captured the CAA’s automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA Championship and will learn their destination during Monday’s 12:30 p.m. selection show on ESPN.
It was JMU’s second championship in the program’s history to go along with the title won in 2008 at Brooks Field as the No. 2 seed. This time the Dukes became the first top seed to capture the title since VCU in 2003. JMU is now 8-2 combined in the three CAA Tournament appearances over the last four years. The Dukes reached 40 wins for the seventh time in program history and the second time in 14 seasons under head coach Spanky McFarland
Valadja (7-3) persevered through the early innings, including ODU (30-26) leaving the bases loaded with one out in the second inning. He fought his way through six innings allowing one run on four hits while matching his career high with nine strikeouts and earning All-Tournament honors..
Four pitchers worked in relief to keep ODU at bay. Meanwhile, JMU added an insurance run in the fifth and three more in the seventh to put away the 10-1 victory.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) hit a three-run home run to stake the Dukes to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. He also pitched three quick outs in the eighth inning. For the championship weekend, he hit .615 (8-for-13) with a double, home run, six runs scored and three steals in three tries.
Three other Dukes solidified their All-Tournament performances with their efforts. Junior catcher Jake Lowery (Midlothian, Va./Cosby) had a pair of singles to break the JMU and CAA record for season total bases with 187. Senior shortstop David Herbek (Haymarket, Va./Battlefield) hit a two-run home run in the six-run second inning. Sophomore first baseman Matt Tenaglia (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks East) had multiple hits for the third time in the tournament and scored twice.
Freshman designated hitter Ty McFarland (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby) went 3-for-3 with a sacrifice bunt, a double and three RBIs. Fellow freshman Conner Brown (Richmond, Va./Godwin) had an RBI single and also drove in a run with a hit by pitch.
Starter Louis Singleton took the loss for the Monarchs to fall to 2-3 after allowing six runs on six hits in three innings of work. Center fielder Kenny Stoneback went 3-for-3 with ODU’s only RBI as the ninth batter in the order.
After each team stranded a runner on second in the first inning, the Dukes got things started with the tournament’s biggest inning. McFarland doubled with one out and scored on a two-out single to center by fellow freshman Conner Brown. Sophomore right fielde3r Cole McInturff (Centreville, Va./Westfield) singled and Bladel sent a three-run home run the opposite way to right field. Lowery dropped a single between three fielders in left and Herbek followed that with another opposite-field homer to right for a 6-0 score.
ODU responded in the second to load the bases on a Shawn Sizemore infield single, a walk and a hit batter. Stoneback then singled to left to drive in the first run for the Monarchs. However, Valadja recovered to induce a pair of flyouts to escape with a 6-1 lead.
The score held until the fifth when Tenaglia dropped a fly ball just in front of the diving center fielder, Stoneback. He moved to third on a hit-and-run single by redshirt senior center fielder Alex Foltz (Mathias, W.Va./East Hardy) and scored on a single through the right side by McFarland. On the next batter, McFarland took off on a delayed steal attempt of second but Foltz was caught too far off third base for the first out. A groundout and a strikeout prevented any further damage.
Monarch miscues helped the Dukes get going again in the seventh as Herbek and Tenaglia reached on errors. Foltz walked to load the bases and McFarland came through with a two-run single up the middle for a 9-1 lead. Sophomore Bradley Shaban’s (Midlothian, Va./Cosby) single reloaded the bases and Brown was hit by a pitch to make it 10-1.
ODU loaded the bases on three straight singles in the seventh by Stoneback, Brandon Shelton and Brent Frazier. However, after junior reliever Josh Futter (Columbia, Md./Wilde Lake) induced a flyout, freshman left-hander Luke Munson (Roanoke, Va./Cave Spring) stepped in for the lefty-lefty matchup and struck out ODU cleanup hitter Chris Baker to end the threat.