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HARRISONBURG -- Coming off of one of the conference's most successful seasons, James Madison University has been selected sixth in the 2014 Colonial Athletic Association preseason baseball poll according to a vote of the league's eight coaches.
Defending regular season champion North Carolina-Wilmington was picked to finish first again with 48 total points and six first-place votes in the poll. CAA newcomer College of Charleston, a regular contender in the Southern Conference, was picked second with 41 points and one first-place vote. William and Mary was third with 35 points followed by defending champion Towson with one first-place vote and 31 points, Northeastern (21), JMU (17), Hofstra (16) and Delaware (15). At-large selections North Carolina-Wilmington and William and Mary joined automatic qualifier Towson to give the CAA three teams in last year's NCAA championship for the first time since 2001.
JMU returns four key pieces from last year's lineup, led by first team All-CAA outfielder Chad Carroll, who finished second in the nation with eight triples while batting .389 with 14 doubles, 55 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He was selected as a third team preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Carroll is joined by three veteran infielders in senior second baseman Conner Brown, senior third baseman Ty McFarland and senior first baseman Matt Tenaglia. A second team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball, Brown smacked nine home runs last year while batting .341. He also tallied 12 doubles and 47 RBIs while collecting 30 walks and 15 hit by pitches for a .465 on-base percentage. McFarland hit .339 with 12 doubles, 42 RBIs and 45 walks. Tenaglia hit .303 with 16 doubles and 29 walks.
Brown, McFarland and Tenaglia are three of JMU's five remaining players from its 2011 CAA championship season when all three were starters. They are joined by recently announced team captains Trent Cundiff and Nick Merullo. Cundiff went 2-2 with a 5.76 ERA in 17 appearances in a setup reliever role last year, while Merullo will share catcher duties after hitting .226 in 19 games at catcher last year.
On the mound, the Dukes return four pitchers who logged at least 40 innings a year ago. Former closer Chris Huffman is expected to slide into one of the weekend starter positions with the arrival of junior college closer Kevin Husum. Other 40-plus inning returners, all weekend candidates, include two of last year's starters in junior right-handers Michael Howerton and Patrick Toohers as well as sophomore right-hander Mark Gunst. Junior Ben Garner and sophomore Aaron Hoover should also provide a boost after missing much of last year with injuries.
JMU opens its 2014 season Feb. 14-16 with a weekend series at East Carolina. The Dukes went 25-30 overall last year and 11-15 to finish sixth in the CAA. The top six teams in the eight-team CAA will compete in the league's championship May 21-24 at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C.