Princeton Resident Bunn Made Solid Contribution As VCU Baseball Produced Landmark Campaign
Months before the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) baseball team started its 2015 season, James Bunn sensed it was going to be a big spring.
“In the fall, me and my roommates said this team is special, there is something going on,” said VCU outfielder Bunn, a Princeton resident who starred in soccer, hockey, and baseball for the Pennington School. “We had a core of seniors who didn’t want to be denied.”
Catching fire heading into the NCAA tournament, VCU won 10 straight games, including the Atlantic 10 championship series. Playing in the NCAA Regional at Dallas Baptist, the fourth-seeded Rams emerged as one of the Cinderella teams of the tourney, upsetting Oregon State and beating host Dallas Baptist twice on the way to winning a regional for the first time in the program’s history. VCU’s magic ride ended when it fell to perennial power, No. 5 Miami, in the Super Regional.
Reflecting on the team’s postseason run, Bunn said the Rams were excited to make an impact nationally.
“It was the first time in the NCAA for any of the players,” said the 6’0, 180-pound Bunn, a rising senior. “We wanted to battle and grind it out. It put us on the map. It was unbelievable, it still hasn’t hit me what we did.”
For Bunn, getting used to the grind of college baseball was one of the main challenges he faced during his freshman campaign at VCU.
“I played my entire freshman year and got exhausted; it was 53 games versus 12 to 15 at Pennington,” said Bunn. “It was also adjusting to not being the best player on the team.”
It didn’t take long for speedy outfielder Bunn to make an immediate impact for VCU as he went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in his collegiate debut against Boston College in 2013.
“In the first inning I threw out a runner at home,” recalled Bunn. “I came up in the next inning and I was absolutely shaking. I didn’t want to strike out, I swung at the first pitch and hit a grounder to second. I got a bunt hit the next at bat and then I hit a double off the right field wall to win the game.”
Bunn ended up hitting .256 with 52 hits, 36 runs, seven doubles, and nine stolen bases as a freshman, earning Atlantic 10 All-Rookie honors.
As a sophomore, Bunn posted a .315 batting average with 63 hits, 44 runs, nine doubles, three triples, and 12 stolen bases.
“It was just the confidence knowing that the team trusts me and needs me,” said Bunn, reflecting on the 2014 season. “I was going out, playing my style of baseball and just having fun.”
As VCU entered the NCAAs this spring, it took that approach collectively. “Coach (Shawn Stiffler) said at regionals, no one knows about you so be the team that has the most fun,” said Bunn, who went 4-for-13 in the regional.
The Rams didn’t have as much fun in the Super Regional, losing 3-2 and 10-3 at Miami to end the season with a 40-25 record.
“It was pretty disappointing, we knew we could stick with them,” said Bunn, who went 2-for-6 with a run and an RBI in the series.
“We played one of our worst games of the year in the opener and lost by one run, we made three errors and didn’t hit well.”
While Bunn wasn’t thrilled with his numbers this year, he made a solid contribution to VCU’s success.
“I had too many strikeouts but once we got to the end and I looked at the stats, I realized I had a pretty good year,” said Bunn. “I hit .284 and was sixth on the team in RBIs (27) with seven stolen bases.”
In reflecting on the team’s historic run, Bunn said it came down to work ethic.
“It was the will to work; it is the hardest working team I have ever been a part of,” said Bunn, who has been putting in some good work this summer with the Danbury Westerners of the New England, hitting .258 with five runs and three doubles in 17 games.
“When we are in the weight room, someone will lift something and another guy will do five pounds heavier. We push each other constantly.”
Looking ahead to his senior campaign, Bunn is primed for a big final push. “In junior year, your eyes are on stats because it is the first time you can be drafted in college,” said Bunn.
“Once you become a senior, you just want to win and play as long as possible. It hit me this year. We lost a lot of pitching depth and we have to make up for that. We do have a lot of position players coming back.”