On Wednesday, JMU was able to steal a walk-off win against VMI 4-3, but its defense nearly cost them the game. This isn't the first time the Dukes have struggled in the field either as they have now made at least one error in 23 of 26 games this season and three or more errors in eight games.
In the fourth inning of Wednesday's game, freshman left fielder Anthony Piccolino allowed a routine out to turn into a run and a man on third for VMI. That runner later scored when redshirt freshman pitcher Nick Robertson balked. Piccolino was able to redeem himself by hitting the game-winning single in the ninth, but it’s defensive miscues like this that’ve plagued JMU this season — and has given its pitching staff fits.
“We need to catch baseballs,” head coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “That’s the bottom line. We’ve worked really hard on our defense, it’s something we’ve emphasized and locked in on.”
The Dukes have made a total of 47 errors in 27 games, which is a fielding percentage of .955, tied for last in the CAA. JMU has lost five games this season by two or fewer runs, and they’ve made at least one error in four of them.
It hasn’t just been errors that’ve hurt the JMU defense this year – it’s been missed opportunities as well. In Wednesdays win over VMI, Dukes sophomore catcher Kyle Hayes had an opportunity to throw out a Keydets player attempting to steal second base. A good throw would’ve had the runner by a couple of feet. Instead Hayes’ throw was wide of the bag and in the dirt – allowing the runner to be safe. The next pitch was also in the dirt, allowing the runner to take third. Neither play went down in the book as an error, but plays such as these can make or break close games.
“I just think we need to slow things down,” sophomore outfielder DaVonn Griffin said. “I know you have to react quick in the field, but you also have to take your time and get what you need to do done.”
There were flashes in this game of the potential JMU has with its gloves. Griffin made a nice sliding catch in center field, when a softly hit fly ball looked like it was going to drop. Freshman infielder Michael Morgan made a great snag on a tailing line drive at first base, then quickly tagged the bag with his glove for an unassisted double play.
In the top of the ninth, the Dukes were in a tough situation, as VMI had loaded the bases with two outs. VMI junior outfielder Matt Pita came up to bat and hit a ground ball to JMU freshman shortstop Josh Jones who had to deal with the runner at second standing in front of him in an attempt to block his view of the ball. The runner dodged the ball at the last second, but Jones kept his composure, fielded the ball and made a strong throw to first to get the out and end the inning.
“I just think we need to field the ball a little better,” Piccolino said. “I think that will come as the season goes along. We’re not even halfway through the season, there’s a lot of time for improvement and we’re going to be good once we start figuring it out.”
These plays show that JMU is capable of improvement on defense, but consistency continues to elude them.
JMU takes on divisional opponent Charleston in its next series starting Friday. Charleston comes into the series at 21-9 (4-2 CAA) and is currently in first in the CAA. This will be an important test for the Dukes as they try to rise from eighth place in the division. A series win could prove huge for JMU’s playoff hopes this season, but JMU must play better defense if that’s to happen.
Contact Connor McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more baseball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.