HARRISONBURG — With 1,294 people in attendance at Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday – the third-largest recorded crowd in James Madison University baseball history – the Dukes took aim at a milestone of their own.
Not the good kind.
William & Mary, the Colonial Athletic Association’s second-place team, had 23 hits and routed the Dukes 24-6 on an 80-degree afternoon. The 24 runs were the most given up by JMU since March 14, 2010, in a 29-8 loss to Illinois State in a tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.
It started and finished with a subpar effort from the James Madison pitchers. Three JMU hurlers – starter Mark Gunst and relievers Michael Howerton and Ford Bradshaw – allowed four or more runs without pitching an entire inning.
Gunst, a 6-foot-1 sophomore right-hander from Fairfax, gave up six runs in the first inning, exiting the game before recording the third out. The Tribe chased him after 10 batters, pushing his season earned run average to 7.78.
“Terrible start on the mound, and this is a hitter’s park,” said JMU assistant Ted White, who was in charge Sunday with Spanky McFarland serving a one-game suspension. “When we fall behind and put guys on base, it compounds itself… when they put the six-spot up, and they probably earned two of them. They were able to capitalize with guys on base better than we were today.”
Gunst agreed, saying it was probably the worst game he has ever pitched. It also was the first time he has failed to get out of the first inning in his baseball career, he said.
“It’s pretty terrible… as a starter you have to be a lot better and a lot sharper,” Gunst said. “Coming into the game and setting an example like that and setting a tone, it’s hard to be successful when your starter gives up six runs and doesn’t even get out of the first inning.”
Relievers Trent Cundiff, Howerton, Brandon Withers, Kevin Feehan and Bradshaw all subsequently allowed multiple runs for the Dukes, who dropped to 12-21 overall and 4-4 in the CAA, where they are tied for third.
“We need more from all of them, there’s no question about it,” White said of the pitching staff. “These guys day in and day out are needing to go out and provide more quality innings. We ask a lot of them, but they’re not up to the standard of collegiate pitching right now, bar none.”
McFarland, who is two wins shy of 500 for his career, was not in the dugout Sunday after being ejected for arguing with an umpire during Saturday night’s 9-8 win over W&M. White, who normally handles the third base coaching duties, was in charge. A CAA rule requires coaches to miss a game if ejected in the previous contest.
William & Mary built a 13-2 lead after three innings, using the six-run first and a seven-run third to do the damage. JMU spread out its scoring, plating a run each inning from the second through the seventh. Right fielder Tyler Gregory, shortstop Kyle Weston and catcher Bobby San Martin both homered for the Dukes.
It was a great day to hit, with a stiff wind blowing out to left field for most of the game. William & Mary (22-13 overall, 6-2 in the CAA) capitalized, hitting three home runs, one each by left fielder Michael Katz (who leads the country in home runs with 14), catcher Ryan Hissey and designated hitter Charley Gould. Eight Tribe batters had multi-hit games, with Katz and Hissey each finishing with four hits and four RBIs.
First-year Tribe coach Brian Murphy – who was the team’s top assistant under former coach Jamie Pinzino, who left to become an assistant at Oklahoma – didn’t draw any conclusions on JMU’s pitching from this weekend’s series, which W&M won 2-1.
“We saw a bunch of different guys, so it’s not just one thing,” Murphy said. “I thought [Chris] Huffman was really good last night. As far as the rest of the guys, it’s kind of a small sample size, so I’m not sure.”
JMU’s team earned run average of 7.95, which ranks last in the eight-team Colonial, is almost two runs worse than seventh-place Delaware (5.48). In 2012 and 2013, the Dukes also had the worst ERA in the CAA. Nationally, the Dukes don’t stack up much better. As of April 9, the latest date for which NCAA statistics were available, JMU ranked 290th in team ERA among the 296 Division I baseball teams.
Since 2008, the Dukes have had team ERAs of under 6.50 just two times. In both of those seasons – 2008 (5.77 ERA) and 2011 (5.87 ERA) – JMU won the CAA tournament. In 2007, 2009, 2010, and for the last three seasons, their ERA has been over 6.50 each time.
“We’re going to keep addressing and not let [the pitchers] have any leeway or rope,” said White, who is in his seventh season as an assistant at JMU. “We’re just going to keep pushing them to be at the standard that we expect out of them.”
W&M 607 032 600 – 24 23 0
JMU 011 111 100 – 6 15 1
Aker, Brown (5), Powers (8), Yoest (9); Gunst, Cundiff (1), Howerton (3), Withers (3), Feehan (6), Bradshaw (6), Evans (6), Husum (8). W-Brown (3-1). L-Gunst (2-5). HR-W&M: Katz (14), Hissey (4), Gould (4); Gregory (4), San Martin (1).