JMU: ‘One of toughest’ baseball schedules on tap for ’10
A four-team tournament in Myrtle Beach, an extended trip to Florida, a home-and-away series with Virginia, 12 games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, and home night games for the first time in program history highlight the 2010 James Madison baseball schedule released Tuesday.
“It’s one of the toughest schedules we’ve had at JMU,” commented head coach Spanky McFarland, who will coach his 13th season with the Dukes. “It’s a little harder because I feel we have an experienced team that should be able to handle it. Any time you have a lot of experience, you want to play as good a schedule as you can. The thinking is to try to give the team more than one way to get into the NCAA tournament. We want to get the RPI high enough that we can get an at-large bid into the tournament if we don’t win the CAA.”
Overall the schedule features eight games against top 50 teams in the 2009 RPI and 17 against the top 100. Additionally, the Diamond Dukes will play 12 games against teams that qualified for the 2009 NCAA field of 64, including games against College World Series qualifier Virginia in Charlottesville on March 2 and at home on March 17. The home contest against the Cavaliers will be one of the marquee games for JMU’s first season in Veterans Memorial Stadium and the first home night game in program history.
One of the key early weekends on the schedule will be the Baseball at the Beach event hosted by Coastal Carolina at BB&T Coastal Field, home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Class A Carolina League in Minor League Baseball. The weekend will have the feel of a four-team NCAA Regional as JMU will be joined by Coastal Carolina (Feb. 26), UC Irvine (Feb. 28), and North Carolina State (Feb. 27). The Anteaters spent much of the 2009 season ranked first in the nation and, along with CCU, finished in the top 30 of the final RPI.
McFarland commented on the weekend in Myrtle Beach, “We tried to put ourselves in a regional atmosphere so that if we do make it, we’ll have the experience of playing at some tough places against good teams. It should be a good test early in the season.”
The new stadium will officially open the first weekend of the season when JMU hosts Marist College in a three-game set Feb. 19-21. The Red Foxes reached the NCAA Tournament as champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Other games against NCAA teams include May 18 at East Carolina, May 12 at Monmouth, and March 26-28 at George Mason.
The week after Baseball at the Beach, JMU will travel to Jacksonville, Fla. for eight games in a span of 10 days. The trip includes three games against host North Florida (March 5, 11, 13) along with two games against Illinois State (March 12 & 14), and single games against Alcorn State (March 6) and Stetson (March 9 at Stetson).
The Florida trip will also feature an exhibition game against the Japanese Collegiate All-Stars on March 7. McFarland stated, “I think that’s one of those once-in–a-lifetime experiences that transcends everything. It’s an opportunity to meet other people and see how the sport is played in a different country. It will be a good cultural experience for the guys. And they are a very good team so it will be another good test.”
The Colonial Athletic Association portion of the 2010 schedule features eight three-game series in the traditional Friday, Saturday, and Sunday format and will culminate in the four-team CAA Championship May 27-29 at UNC Wilmington’s Brooks Field. JMU will play home series against Towson (March 19-21), William and Mary (April 9-11), UNCW (April 16-18), and Delaware (April 30-May 2). Road series include George Mason (March 26-28), Old Dominion on Easter Weekend (April 2-4), Hofstra (May 14-16), and VCU (May 21-23).
In addition to Virginia, the Dukes will play home-and-away series against Radford, Longwood, Liberty, Maryland, and VMI. They will also have a three-game trip to Kennesaw State in Georgia April 24-25.
JMU’s new stadium, Veterans Memorial Stadium, is nearly completed construction and will be available when the team begins practice in early February. The facility features a synthetic turf playing surface throughout (including the infield dirt area) with seating for 1,200 and lights. The complex also includes renovations to JMU’s Memorial Hall with new locker rooms, offices for coaches, team meeting rooms, indoor batting cages, sports medicine, and strength training facilities. The indoor areas will be occupied during JMU’s winter break.
The schedule at the new stadium includes a total of 11 night games with first pitch at 6:30 p.m. at all games with the exception of Sundays beginning March 19 through the remainder of the season. JMU, which has traditionally played only a handful of night games in a season, will play nearly 20 night contests home and away in 2010.
McFarland added, “I’m excited about the night games. When we return from Florida we’ll start immediately. I think that will be fun. We’re going with 6:30 games so kids can come to games and still get home at a decent time. It’s also late enough that it’s after work and dinner so hopefully people can get there.”
JMU returns an experienced roster in 2010 with 23 of 29 letterwinners back from last year’s 30-24 squad. The Dukes return starters at all eight field positions and players who accounted for 1,655 of the team’s 1,960 total at bats. On the mound, JMU returns nine pitchers who threw at least 25 innings last year and players who accounted for 413 2/3 of the team’s 474 total innings pitched. In addition, the Dukes return a starting catcher who missed all but 10 games in 2009 due to injury and a pair of probable starting pitchers who sat out the entire season due to an injury and a transfer redshirt.