TA’s Yankey Is Madison Bound
Knights’ Pitcher Going D-I
HARRISONBURG — Sitting behind the wheel of his Toyota Tacoma in Harrisonburg on Wednesday afternoon, Eric Yankey got the phone call he had been waiting for.
It just took him a few seconds to snap back to reality.
“I kind of lost focus on the road a little bit to tell you the truth,” the Turner Ashby High School pitcher said via cellphone. “I was at a stop sign and, I don’t know, I guess I kind of forgot what I was doing for a little while.”
Yankey said the big phone call came from James Madison University assistant baseball coach Ted White. He was calling to officially offer Yankey a spot on the Dukes’ roster. Yankey committed immediately.
“I’ve been wanting it for [the] four years that I’ve been in high school,” Yankey said.
Yankey will be joined at JMU next year by his teammate Evan Hanifee, a third baseman for the Knights, as well as Spotswood left-hander Tucker McCoy, who is sidelined this season with a knee injury suffered playing basketball.
A source said JMU had been recruiting Yankey, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound left-hander with a wicked breaking ball, since the winter, but the Dukes’ coaching staff wanted to see him pitch more, hence the delay in Yankey’s recruitment.
Yankey, who plans to major in business at Madison, said he has a guaranteed roster spot next season. He said his play will determine whether JMU will give him a scholarship. Evan Hanifee has a similar arrangement.
The Dukes (15-26 overall, 6-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association) certainly need pitching help. They have worst ERA (7.69) in the eight-team CAA. That ranks 292nd out of 296 Division I teams.
“It all depends on how I do I guess,” Yankey said of his chances to play early. “I know they’ve got more faster — and probably more quality — arms than me there, so I’m hoping for the best.”
TA coach Sean Hanifee — whose younger son Brenan, a sophomore shortstop at TA, is also committed to JMU — said Yankey’s stellar start to his senior season made him more desirable.
About midway through the season, Yankey is 5-0 in five starts, with 55 strikeouts and a 0.54 ERA for the Knights (10-2 overall, 5-0 in the Valley District).
“In this day and age, him still being around is a rarity,” Sean Hanifee said. “Guys uncommitted halfway through his senior year, that’s pretty rare. Sometimes in the last few years, when a guy gets to that stage, he’s not going anywhere. To still have the opportunity, which he created for himself, I believe, through his performance, is a pretty big deal.
“I’m not asking him to put up better numbers than he’s put up. From a recruiting standpoint, he’s done what he’s needed to do.”
The fact that the process dragged out so long concerned Yankey, he said. He said he had interest from Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite University, both Division III schools. (D-III schools do not give athletic scholarships.) He also drew interest from and D-I Longwood and D-II Alderson-Broaddus (W.Va.).
“I was kind of getting worried a little bit,” Yankey said. “I knew I could always fall back to Bridgewater or EMU, that wasn’t really an issue, but yeah, I was really hoping to get into JMU.”
Yankey ranks second among area pitchers in strikeouts this season, behind only Stonewall Jackson’s Colton Harlow (64). In four of his five starts, he’s struck out double-digit batters, including a 16-strikeout performance against Spotswood on April 11. JMU and EMU scouts watched his last start, a 13-strikeout game at Waynesboro.
“I hope he’s just getting started,” Sean Hanifee said. “He’s only thrown five times, and I’m still hoping that the best is yet to come. He’s been very impressive in his first five outings. We knew we were going to have to lean on him quite a bit to start to work toward our goals, and he’s been better than expected. That’s made it a lot more enjoyable for all of us and especially for him.”