JMU baseball won by a score of 6-3 over Northeastern on Saturday and advanced to 14-11 on the year. The victory snapped a three-game slide and was the second conference win of the season for the Dukes.
It was a sunny, windy afternoon, and from the first pitch, it appeared it would be Northeastern’s day. Junior outfielder Charlie McConnell led off for the Huskies in the bottom of the first and smacked the first ball he saw down the left field line. However, starting pitcher Kevin Kelly shook off the early nerves and retired three of the next four batters to escape the inning.
Striking out five batters in two innings was just the beginning of Kelly’s outstanding performance, as the promising right-handed sophomore allowed seven hits and two runs in six and two thirds innings and picked up his second win of the season.
“I learned a lot about myself today, throwing some pitches I don’t usually throw,” Kelly said. “Usually I don’t go backdoor slider on lefties and today I did that twice and it worked out.”
In the bottom of the third the Dukes made some noise, scoring three runs in an inning for the first time since March 18. A well-executed bunt by sophomore outfielder DaVonn Griffin advanced the runner on first into scoring position with just one out. After senior leadoff hitter Adam Sisk was walked, sophomore third baseman Fox Semones hit a sharp liner into left field to load the bases.
Northeastern senior starting pitcher Brian Christian proceeded to walk sophomore designated hitter Harry Brown and put the Dukes on the board. Freshman shortstop Josh Jones skipped the ball into left field moments later to add another run and a sacrifice fly by freshman catcher Michael Morgan made JMU’s lead 3-0.
“Coming out early [and] setting the tempo [is] really important for us,” Morgan said.
The Dukes played small ball in the next inning, as infield singles by freshman outfielder Anthony Piccolino and sophomore second baseman Matt Dipasupil put runners at the corners with one out. However, a ground ball up the middle fielded by Christian resulted in a double play and the end of the inning.
Dipasupil provided more run support for JMU with a deep shot off the right field wall, scoring two and making the lead 5-0 for the Dukes through six innings. Kelly credited the offense for playing a key role in his performance and said run support was the difference in the game.
“It’s huge,” Kelly said. “It lifts all the pressure of your shoulders when you come in with three runs behind you. You can focus on throwing strikes and letting your defense do the job.”
The Huskies got on the board in the top of the seventh with infield singles from McConnell and junior outfielder Cam Walsh. Northeastern scored two runs with two outs after the Dukes couldn’t convert close calls at first base.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Sheldon Perkins came on in relief for Kelly in the seventh inning and got JMU out of a tough bases-loaded situation. The Huskies would strike in the top of the eighth with a home run off the bat of junior third baseman Ryan Solomon to pull within two runs.
In the end, it wouldn’t be enough, as Griffin drove in an insurance run with a double in the bottom of the eighth. Redshirt sophomore closer Brett Ayer would get the save and the Dukes would get the 6-3 win.
This win was JMU’s first by three or more runs since March 10, and the first such victory of the year against a CAA opponent. After entering the game eighth in the conference standings, the Dukes can only hope for more of the same in the coming weeks.
“I thought it was one of the best games we played all year after playing one of our worst games all year last night,” head coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “I was really proud of how our guys came out focused and ready to go.”
The Dukes knotted the series with Northeastern at a game a piece with run support, which will need to continue if JMU plans on rising to the top of the conference. JMU will look to win its first CAA series of the young season Sunday at 12 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park.