SPRINGFIELD — Joe “Spanky” McFarland has never been the yelling and screaming type. He’s not baseball’s Bobby Knight.
The 1972 Tecumseh High School graduate has taken his James Madison University team to the NCAA Division I tournament for the third time in his 14 years at the helm. They open play in the Chapel Hill regional against Florida International at 1 p.m. today.
There won’t be any big speeches from the coach. McFarland’s message will be simple.
“Just relax,” he’ll tell them. “Play the game. Stay focused.”
McFarland guided James Madison to the tournament in 2002 and 2008. Today’s game is not just another game for his team, but he’d like the players to view it as such.
“I really try to focus on the guys not changing anything,” he said. “What happens when you get to the tournament, especially when you’re from a smaller conference, is you have a tendency to try too hard. You think you have to play over your heads. That’s where you get in trouble. We just have to make sure we don’t get too up, too excited. We need to keep our emotions under control and keep an inner calm and focus and do the things that got us here.
“We’re playing well. We’ve won nine in a row. Why change? We just have to be as good as we can be.”
James Madison (40-17) is ranked 30th by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. It advanced to the NCAA tournament by capturing the Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic bid, which it secured with a 10-1 win over Old Dominion on Saturday.
It wasn’t an easy season by any means, but James Madison is peaking at the right time.
“We had a pretty good start, and then we had some injures and a bunch of guys out of the lineup,” McFarland said. “We had to play a lot of young guys, but during that time, we managed to stay around .500. Then guys started getting healthy. The young guys who got to play got a lot better. Then the last month of the season, we got hot. We’ve really been playing well. We’re about as healthy as we can be.”