JMU roundup: Dukes picked second in CAA softball poll

Daily Staff Report – sports@nvdaily.com

RICHMOND – Coming off a season that saw it win a program record 42 games and receive an at-large selection to the 2013 NCAA tournament, the James Madison University softball team was picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association based on voting by the league’s seven head coaches.

Defending champion Hofstra was chosen as the preseason favorite, receiving five first-place votes and 35 total points. The Dukes picked up the other two first-place votes and claimed second with 32 points. CAA newcomer the College of Charleston and Delaware tied for third in the voting, while Towson was positioned in fifth. Rounding out the poll was UNCW in sixth and Drexel in seventh.

JMU returns nine letterwinners from last year’s squad that went 42-17 overall and 18-3 in conference play. Madison expects to be paced by its depth in the pitching circle as it returns 2013 CAA Rookie of the Year and First Team All-CAA selection Jailyn Ford as well as 2012 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-CAA selection Heather Kiefer. Ford went 24-6 with a 1.61 ERA in 2013, adding nine shutouts and 209 strikeouts in 191 innings pitched. Kiefer contributed a 14-8 mark and a 1.65 ERA while walking just 27 batters in 135 2/3 innings pitched.

Ford also hit .373 with 15 home runs, 49 RBIs, 38 runs and nine stolen bases in 169 at-bats. She’s joined in the batting order by three-time All-CAA selection senior shortstop Caitlin Sandy as well as CAA All-Rookie honoree sophomore catcher Erica Field and sophomore second baseman Hannah Hayes. Sandy hit .313 with 25 RBIs, 20 runs scored and 13 steals. Field added a .328 average and a team-best 14 doubles, while Hayes hit .256 and smacked two home runs.

JMU opens its season this weekend as it ventures to Athens, Ga., to play in the Red and Black Showcase from Friday, Feb. 7 through Sunday, Feb. 9. The Dukes are joined by No. 23/24 Georgia, North Texas and Winthrop in the five-game tournament.