JMU roundup: Dukes sweep CAA softball awards

Daily Staff Report – sports@nvdaily.com

HARRISONBURG – Senior shortstop Caitlin Sandy became the third straight James Madison University softball player to be named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, highlighting an eventful evening for JMU at the league’s postseason banquet held on Tuesday.

Sandy’s honor was one of 17 accolades collected by the Dukes on Tuesday that included a sweep of the league’s major honors. Sophomore pitcher Jailyn Ford collected CAA Pitcher of the Year, while batterymate sophomore catcher Erica Field earned co-Defensive Player of the Year. Freshman outfielder Niki Prince claimed the league’s Rookie of the Year accolade. Head Coach Mickey Dean completed the sweep by taking home CAA Coach of the Year honors.

Field, Ford, Sandy and Prince were named to the All-CAA First Team. Senior first baseman Cassidy Clayton, junior pitcher Heather Kiefer, sophomore second baseman Hannah Hayes and freshman outfielder Taylor Newton earned All-CAA Second Team recognitions. Prince and Newton were joined by freshman third baseman Madyson Moran on the All-Rookie Team, while Sandy completed the night by earning CAA All-Academic team.

Sandy is the third straight Madison player, and the fourth overall, to collect CAA Player of the Year, joining utility player Sarah Mooney (2013), shortstop Ashley Burnham (2010 & 2012) and first baseman Jenn Chavez (2007). She hit .325 with 14 extra-base hits, including a career-high seven home runs, 28 RBIs and 28 runs scored. The fourth-year Duke contributed 15 walks, six steals, three sacrifice flies and posted a .943 fielding percentage to lead Madison in 2014. In CAA play, Sandy upped her numbers to a .400 batting average with four home runs, 14 RBIs and 15 runs scored. She heads into the conference tournament ranked in the top 10 in school history in games played (third, 217), games started (third, 214), at-bats (fifth, 595), hits (fifth, 181), runs scored (sixth, 95), total bases (sixth, 257), steals (ninth, 29) and home runs (10th, 13).

Ford is the first JMU player to be named CAA Pitcher of the Year. She led the CAA in wins with 21, strikeouts with 206 and ERA at 1.29. The left-hander added a school-record 200 1/3 innings pitched, eight shutouts, 18 complete games and limited batters to 34 walks and a .199 batting average against. In league play, she went 7-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 67 innings of work. Ford is the only pitcher this season to shutout the nation’s top team, Oregon, and has held her opponent to two runs or less in 30 of her 37 appearances this year.

After an 11-year hiatus, the CAA brought back the Defensive Player of the Year award for the first time since 2002. Field shares the honor with Charleston’s Lizzy Vaughn after she posted a .991 fielding percentage, recording 295 putouts and 29 assists against three errors in 54 games played. The sophomore caught 358 1/3 of a possible 363 1/3 innings for JMU this year and threw out 12 of 29 (41.4 percent) would-be base stealers. She also added two pickoffs and allowed just 12 wild pitches and four passed balls. Field guided the Dukes pitching staff to a league-leading 1.71 ERA while helping Ford and Kiefer earn All-CAA recognitions.

Prince is the third-straight Duke to win CAA Rookie of the Year, and the fourth overall, joining Ford (2013), Kiefer (2012) and outfielder Lauren Curtis (2003). She hit .399 with a .396 on-base percentage as the Madison lead-off hitter. The center fielder chipped in seven doubles, five home runs, 28 runs and 20 RBIs in 44 games played. She walked 19 times and stole 12 bases while playing perfect defense in the field for JMU. In league play, she hit .315 with four doubles, two home runs, 15 runs and nine RBIs. During the season, Prince posted the third-longest reached base streak in school history at 21 and the second-longest by a freshman, having that run end during the final week of the season. In total, she reached base safely in 37 of the 44 games she played in this year.

Dean wins CAA Coach of the Year for the first time and collects his fifth conference Coach of the Year trophy after winning it four times in the Big South. He guided the Dukes to their first-ever outright regular season conference championship as they went 41-13 overall and 15-3 in the CAA. He has guided the Dukes to back-to-back 40-win seasons, the only two times in school history they’ve reached that plateau. This is the third time a JMU coach has claimed Coach of the Year accolades after Katie Flynn won the award in 2004 and 2007.

Cassidy Clayton hit .254 with eight doubles, one triple, one home run, 14 RBIs and seven runs to earn her first-ever All-CAA nod. Kiefer makes All-CAA for the third straight year after she went 19-7 with a 2.10 ERA in 150 innings pitched. Newton hit .265 with six home runs and 28 RBIs while Hayes batted .285 with six doubles, one triple, two home runs, 18 RBIs and 29 runs in her sophomore campaign.

Moran had a solid debut season for the Dukes, collecting All-Rookie honors after batting .274 with six doubles and a home run in 54 games started.

The CAA Championship gets underway from Veterans Memorial Park in Harrisonburg on Wednesday. The top-seeded Dukes take on fourth-seeded Towson at noon with second-seeded Charleston playing third-seeded Hofstra at 3 p.m. Admission is free to the tournament with the entire schedule being broadcast on CAA.TV.