Kevin Kelly vs. Towson (copy)

JMU junior pitcher Kevin Kelly hopes to help lead the JMU baseball team back into the CAA Tournament after missing out last season.

Dukes pitcher Kevin Kelly approached the offseason the same as the rest of his teammates — ready to work and stay loose for the 2019 season. But Kelly did more than that.

Kelly caught fire last summer. His personal achievements in the past offseason weren’t lost among JMU baseball fans or his teammates, as he produced lofty numbers over his summer campaign.

The junior pitcher spent his summer pitching for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League. During the season, the Springfield, Virginia, native posted a 1.25 ERA, struck out 27 opposing batters and kept them in check with a .184 batting average in 13 games. Kelly even got the nod at starter in the league’s All-Star game in July. Reflecting back on his summer with the Firebirds, Kelly noted there were things he learned in the CCBA that he wants to implement at JMU this spring.

“There was a lot of little things, really,” Kelly said. “Things like making sure we pick up each other and we’re always working hard, I took that away from some of the guys there.”

Picking each other up may have been challenging as the Dukes’ season progressed last year. JMU came one game short of advancing to the CAA Tournament in 2018. It was a game that head coach Marlin Ikenberry and his team wish they could have back.

“We’ve talked about it all year,” Ikenberry said. “It actually came down to about three plays, and you wish you could have those three plays back.”

One thing Kelly made clear is that he and his team have no reason to look back anymore. All eyes are only looking forward to what they can accomplish this season, and it begins with leadership positions like Kelly’s.

Sophomore pitcher Justin Showalter, who recorded 11 strikeouts in nine appearances last season, is one of many on JMU’s roster who finds himself in that same position. Having worked closely with Kelly, Showalter was quick to acknowledge the changes in his teammate’s game from his strong offseason.

“He had the best ERA in the league over the summer, which is crazy,” Showalter said. “He’s been working hard at all the extra things he can do to become better and I think it’s going to pay off for him.”

Kelly isn’t one to brag about his past achievements at JMU or his stats in the CCBA, either. Besides his CCBA stats from last season, Kelly had an impressive sophomore season with the Dukes. In 2018, Kelly recorded 75 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.74 and held opponents to a batting average of .268.

Arguably his most impressive performance last season for the Dukes was at Hofstra, where he recorded 12 strikeouts against the Pride in a game last May. Despite the numbers, his focus isn’t on last spring, last summer or falling short of the playoffs by one game; it’s all about 2019 and taking his team to the CAA Tournament. His coach wasn’t surprised by his pitcher’s remarks, calling Kelly a model player.

“One of the things I love about Kevin is every time last year when he didn’t have an outing as good as he wanted to have, his very next outing was lights out and even better,” Ikenberry said. “Kevin is Kevin, he just does his thing and he’s humble.”

This season looks to be a special one for JMU baseball. With his coach preparing to give him the start on opening night, Kelly’s offseason experience and work ethic is something he wants to use to better the people around him — not just the pitchers on the mound, but on the diamond and the outfield as well. For Kelly, the first step of many is getting back to the CAA Tournament with the people he gives all the credit to — his teammates.

“The whole environment around us is more serious and our work ethic is a lot better than in years past,” Kelly said. “We’re really going to push into the next tier this year.”

Contact Jordan Simal at simaljg@dukes.jmu.edu. For more baseball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.