brady baseball

Redshirt senior first baseman Brady Harju gets ready to swing against Albany.

Although the fall semester left JMU baseball without its typical fall training, the Diamond Dukes have introduced new members and continued preparing for an eventual February season. From competing in an intersquad tournament to integrating the incoming players into the lineup, JMU has kept itself busy before the new season.

Prior to the shutdown in March, JMU was on pace for its first winning record since 2011. The team was en route to Harrisonburg after a 4-2 win over Maryland when the cancelation was announced, and had yet to play a conference game. Shortly before the fall season began, the NCAA announced that spring athletes could have an additional year of eligibility — this gave way for the entire starting lineup to return for the Diamond Dukes.

“All of our starters will be back this season, and that’s going to be huge for us,” head coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “We have depth in many positions, and we won’t have to totally rely on a young roster.”

JMU baseball is known for its extreme dedication to building relationships. One way that’s become popular on social media is the creation and use of “The BroPound,” where members take part in TikToks and Twitter as a way to keep connected. The platform was beginning to take its typical hold during the 2020 season and will likely make its return this spring.

With NCAA COVID-19 restrictions, the team struggles to keep traditions similar to “The BroPound” alive. The Dukes have focused on fostering relationships during practices rather than relying on post-practice dinners or more traditional routes when meeting new teammates.

“Trying to get together outside of baseball has been the hardest part, especially for the newer guys,” senior catcher Michael Morgan said. “We haven’t gotten to know them as well as previous classes quite yet, which makes it different in the locker room on top of the restrictions there too.”

Redshirt senior third baseman Fox Semones and redshirt senior first baseman Brady Harju will return to the field. Both players were standouts during last season’s run and are team leaders heading into their final seasons at JMU.

Semones finished the 2020 season starting all 16 games played with 12 runs on 52 at-bats. Harju ended his season with six RBIs and 11 hits on 40 at-bats. The first baseman held a near-perfect fielding percentage at .989 and one error. Harju is yet another solidifying threat for the Dukes this spring.

“For me it was being able to continue reaching for my dream of playing professional baseball,” Semones said. “The eligibility gave me another chance to go back to the dream again.”

Even with the return of the 2020 starting lineup, the Diamond Dukes still have a chance to introduce the nine freshmen who joined the roster this season. This includes four pitchers, three infielders and two catchers on the roster who’ll see collegiate play this season. Assistant and team pitching coach Jimmy Jackson works with the team closely, particularly with the newest members to prepare the season ahead.

“Jimmy’s a phenomenal pitching coach for us,” senior pitcher Nick Stewart said. “He works with each individual guy with whatever they need to improve and settle the new team into intrasquad situations.”

One way the coaches keep competition on the Diamond Dukes’ mind is through the annual Purple and Gold World Series. Each season the roster splits in half and plays in a multi-practice tournament over the course of a weekend. The players hold this event in high regard, and it allows the coaches to see where each individual player is and how the team looks overall.

“We always have a blast with it,” Stewart said. “The players can pick the teams and it brings competition into everything, including a starter versus nonstarter fight, so the coaches and the team can see what everyone can do.”

The tournament this year demonstrated the depth this team has overall. With redshirt teammates alongside the new freshmen, the Diamond Dukes have multiple layers for utilization on the field.

“It’s been awesome letting younger guys get in the lineups and letting them play with us,” Morgan said. “So we now have pretty established lineups and it’s a big advantage for us.”

As seen with both JMU basketball teams, one of the biggest challenges with COVID-19 procedures is having the ability to make changes quickly. JMU has already begun anticipating schedule changes and has precautions in place to keep the entire roster safe. Despite this making it difficult to bond, the team has created a togetherness within themselves.

“I tell the guys to remember and appreciate the opportunity they have,” Ikenberry said. “I saw the appreciation in the fall with their respect and it continued to the young kids; it was all done by the team.”

Contact Madison Hricik hricikmn@dukes.jmu.edu. For more baseball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.