CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Jake Lowery started the season with three home runs back on Opening Day against Bucknell. So it only felt right that he homered in his first at-bat of the NCAA tournament against Florida International.
Lowery, James Madison's junior catcher, did a little bit of everything to lead the Dukes to an 11-7 victory in Friday's Chapel Hill Regional opener. Lowery went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, three runs and threw out an FIU basestealer. It was a pretty standard game for the likely All-American.
"Today was just another day, another pitcher, another at-bat," Lowery said. "I just tried to keep it as simple as I could."
Lowery's biggest contribution to the game may have been his RBI single in the seventh inning that tied the game at six and sparked a six-run James Madison rally that removed all doubt from the game. The single came against righthander Jose Velazquez, whom Florida International coach Turtle Thomas said had been automatic all season.
Velazquez started Lowery off with a slider, before throwing a fastball that caught too much of the plate.
"I just took advantage of it and tried to get that RBI and get us started," Lowery said.
Shortstop David Herbek followed Lowery's RBI single with one of his own, giving James Madison a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Herbek said hitting behind Lowery this season has been a big benefit.
"A lot of people say hitting's contagious," Herbek said. "I can attest by hitting after Jake all year that if you see the guy in front of you get a hit or hit a ball well, it kind of relaxes you. It lets you know that 'OK, if he's hitting this guy that well, he must not have that much.' "
After Herbek's somewhat backhanded-compliment of Lowery, the catcher shot the shortstop a look of mock outrage. Lowery has been hitting the ball well all year, coming into the NCAA tournament hitting .357/.444/.756 and with 22 home runs, the second-most in the nation.
But he also was able to contribute defensively Friday. In the first inning, Lowery threw out Florida International center fielder Pablo Bermudez attempting to steal second. Bermudez picked a good pitch to run on, but Lowery fired a strike from his knee that still had Thomas shaking his head after the game.
"Let's face it, Lowery's thrown out about 40 or so percent of guys that have tried to steal against him," Thomas said. "He dropped to a knee and threw a bullet to second base. If he'd have stood up, Pablo would have been safe by a mile. He just made a great throw."
Should James Madison continue in the winner's bracket this weekend, Lowery's hitting is sure to be a part of it.
"They proved what they can do offensively today," Thomas said. "Only a well-pitched game is going to beat them because they can swing the bat, no question."