HARRISONBURG — Monday’s game was bad enough for the James Madison baseball team — a 19-4 dismantling by No. 22 Seton Hall — but an emerging pattern might be even worse.
“It’s been kind of a theme,” said Spanky McFarland, the Dukes’ 17th-year coach, whose team faces No. 3 Virginia today at 4 p.m. in Charlottesville. “We haven’t been able to put three games together in a row. We’re tired. We can’t stay focused — we’re having trouble putting [together] two games in a row. We give up a big inning; we drop our heads. It’s just not fun to watch right now. We’ll get it fixed.”
Except for the fixing part, that’s basically what happened Monday on a mild afternoon at mostly empty Veterans Memorial Park.
Mark Gunst (1-2) gave up back-to-back home runs in the first inning, and the Dukes (7-8) never recovered. They tied it 3-3 in the bottom of the third inning on a double by Ty McFarland and a single by Matt Tenaglia, but that was it.
Seton Hall (9-3) toasted Madison the rest of the way, outscoring the Dukes 16-0 en route to 24 hits for the game — the second most JMU has allowed in a game in program history. The most is 25, which the Dukes gave up to Bucknell in 2012 and Georgia State in 2007.
“We came out a little flat, I think,” said Gunst, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound sophomore right-hander who gave up seven runs (four earned) and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. “I think, after we scored a lot of runs yesterday [an 11-3 win over Seton Hall] — it was a great victory. I think I definitely didn’t set the tone that I should have as a starting pitcher, and you’ve got to be better than that. I have to be better than that. I mean, our team played well enough to win. Our hitters, they still threw up 12 hits. I’ve got to be better as a pitcher; I’ve got to have my team’s back in order to win.”
In the three-game series, the start of which was pushed back from Friday to Saturday because of cold weather, Seton Hall scored 37 runs and had 54 hits, including 22 in Game 1, a 15-4 victory. JMU won Game 2 Sunday, thanks to a complete game from Chris Huffman, a Fort Defiance High School graduate.
But the Dukes have yet to win more than two in a row through 15 games this season. They also had the worst team ERA in the Colonial Athletic Association at 4.99 entering Monday’s game. (They are second in hitting, batting .287.)
“Right off the bat, [Seton Hall] came out swinging,” said Tenaglia, JMU’s first baseman who went 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI. “The wind was blowing. They got a couple of lucky hits to go over the fence, and it just kind of snowballed from there. We just need to have a better attitude than that. I don’t know; we just need to get the ball rolling — find that consistency, because if you came here yesterday, we were a totally different team. It’s early in the season. We’ve just got to find that groove.”
Tyler Gregory was the only other JMU player with a multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. McFarland, a Turner Ashby grad, went 1-for-4 and came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning, but the Dukes’ third baseman grounded out to first to end the inning. Madison didn’t score again until the eighth inning, and by then, it trailed 15-4.
After Seton Hall went up 2-0 in the first inning on the home runs — D.J. Ruhlman hit the first, and Kyle Grimm hit the second — and 3-0 in the second, Kyle Weston got JMU on the scoreboard with an inside-the-park home run to right-center field. The center fielder and right fielder dived at each other and the ball bounced through to the fence.
For Weston, a Spotswood grad who transferred from North Carolina-Asheville, it was his first home run of the season.
“Rounding third, I saw two of the outfielders both dive, and that point, I knew I might have a shot because I didn’t square it up as well as I would like,” said Weston, the Dukes’ shortstop. “So I knew it wasn’t extremely hard.”
But after a series in which they were outscored 37-19, are the Dukes ready for Virginia?
“If we come out like we did [Sunday], I think we’re going to pound them,” Tenaglia said. “And I really do. I mean, we obviously are hitting the ball. If we can get some good pitching, I think we’re going to be fine. Playing a big opponent like that, I don’t think it really gets us nervous. It kind of hypes us up. We’ll good.”
McFarland was less cheery.
When asked if a win over one of the best teams in the country would do anything to improve JMU’s situation, he said: “That’d make us 8-8. I think it would probably make us 8-8.”
Seton Hall 210 315 124 – 19 24 1
JMU 012 000 010 – 4 12 2
Cahill, DiBenedetto (4), Lombardi (7), Krauss (8) and Falconi; Gunst, Howerton (5), Evans (6), Krugh (7), Horne (9) and San Martin, Hanson (8). W – DiBenedetto (1-0). L – Gunst (1-2). HR – Seton Hall: Ruhlman (2), Grimm (1), Mogues (2). JMU: Weston (1).