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Baseball: Dukes are preseason pick in CAA

For the third straight season, James Madison baseball has been picked to finish first in the Colonial Athletic Association according to a preseason poll of the league’s 11 head coaches.

JMU, which won the regular season in 2010 by capturing all eight of its league series, received four first-place votes and topped the poll with 90 points. Georgia State also earned four first-place votes to place second with 88 points. Defending CAA champion VCU received two first-place votes and 84 points while UNC Wilmington made it a tight top four with 83 points. William and Mary was fifth with 54 points, followed by George Mason (51), Old Dominion (44), Delaware (34), Towson (33), Hofstra (26), and Northeastern (18).

Last season the Dukes finished 30-23 and earned the top seed in the CAA tournament with an 18-6 league record. Five everyday starters return from last year along with another starter from 2009 that missed all of last season.

The returners primarily reside up the middle, led by returning 2010 All-CAA performers in senior second baseman Trevor Knight (Charlottesville, Va./St. Anne’s-Belfield) and senior shortstop David Herbek (Haymarket, Va./Battlefield) along with junior catcher Jake Lowery (Midlothian, Va./Cosby). All-Rookie honorees Johnny Bladel (Ashburn, Va./Stone Bridge) and Matt Tenaglia (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks East) return after solid JMU debuts in 2010 while All-CAA outfielder Alex Foltz (Mathias, W.Va./East Hardy) is back after sitting out the 2010 campaign.

Leading a fairly inexperienced pitching staff will be senior left-hander Alex Valadja (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Catholic), junior right-hander Evan Scott (Haymarket, Va./Battlefield), and sophomore right-hander D.J. Brown (Locust Grove, Va./Orange County) along with senior reliever James Weiner (Charlottesville, Va./St. Anne’s-Belfield).

JMU begins full practices Feb. 1 and opens the season with a four-game home series Feb. 18-20 against NCAA participant Bucknell. The 2011 schedule is composed of 30 home games at Veterans Memorial Park, including 14 at night, and also features five games against Atlantic Coast Conference teams. The CAA returns to playing series against all 10 CAA teams in league play after playing an eight-series, 24-game slate the last two years.