A black 2007 GMC Yukon pulls into the parking lot at Memorial Hall on a quiet, chilly Saturday morning in Harrisonburg. JMU baseball’s senior outfielder Adam Sisk steps out of his car five hours before first pitch and, much to his surprise, he’s not alone. Teammates DaVonn Griffin, Harry Brown and Matt Dipasupil have beaten him to batting practice consistently, something he’s still getting used to.
“I’m happy coming to the field every day and seeing guys getting here before me,” Sisk said. “It used to be me here first, a lot, and now guys are beating me to the field.”
Sisk and his teammates arrived hours early to JMU baseball’s facility at Veterans Memorial Park ahead of the second game in a February weekend series against Albany. Following a tough 8-5 loss in extra innings the night before, the Dukes were eager to get to the field and get the sour taste of defeat out of their mouths.
“At the end of the meeting, [head coach Marlin] Ikenberry said, ‘Look at your watches. What time is it?’” Sisk said. “It was like 10:45 or 11 o’clock. He said, ‘You guys know we play at 4 [p.m.] today, right?’”
Later that day, JMU would come from behind to defeat Albany 4-3 in the second game of the series and would win the series on Sunday, improving to 5-2 on the season. The score would be seen and remembered, but the work and preparation that went into the game would go unnoticed.
“It’s a tenacious group that works really hard every day,” Ikenberry said. “There’s still some evolving parts, especially with the injuries we’ve had. [We’ve had] guys playing different positions, guys stepping up that need to step up at the right time.”
JMU has won five of its last six, but still sits close to the bottom of the conference standings with a 5-7 record in CAA play. While the team’s extra efforts haven’t quite translated to success in the standings, the best days for this team are ahead.
“Everyone comes to practice every day working hard as hell,” Sisk said. “These guys work really hard and no one gets to see the behind the scenes. What people don’t get to see, I see every day.”
The Dukes are 20-17 and are on pace to finish the season with a winning record for the first time since 2011. A road series this weekend against Delaware, who has a 5-4 record in conference play, will be critical if JMU plans on keeping pace with its CAA foes.
“What I’m most proud of is me and the other seniors are instilling this work ethic on these young guys,” Sisk said. “I love getting beat to the park every day … It brings a big smile to my face.”
While the older players are setting the tone for the underclassmen, no one on the roster has experienced a season of winning baseball at JMU. Last season was the closest the team’s been, as the Dukes were 24-22 with five games to play but lost all five to finish under .500 again for the sixth straight year.
“The overall competitiveness of each player [has improved],” Ikenberry said. “We have more depth in the pitching staff. Last year, we didn’t have a lot of depth and that’s why we struggled down the stretch.”
Several freshmen and sophomores have become key contributors in the starting lineup, but one consequence of having a young team is the inherent inexperience that accompanies youth. After several close losses, the team is prepared to put past shortcomings behind it.
“We’re a young team,” sophomore pitcher Kevin Kelly said. “It’s not an excuse, but we’ve got a lot of young guys and I think that plays into it a little.”
The Dukes are grinding toward turning the tide and changing perceptions of the program. While the public doesn’t see it, the work put in behind the scenes and before the game is crucial to the team’s success, and it’s finally starting to show.
“If we just get 1 percent better every day and keep doing the little things in practice, they’re going to translate over to the game,” Sisk said.
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more baseball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.