Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Note: It’s our goal to provide unbiased coverage of JMU’s athletic programs, but I’m sick of the mid-major disrespect, so this is what you get.
They don’t know about us. Whether it’s a softball team or someone asking where I went to college, the world doesn’t know all that much about JMU.
“I-81 cuts right through campus,” I’ll say.
“Oh yeah? I think I’ve driven past there before.”
Imagine attending JMU for four years and loving every person, building and experience, only to be known as the school that cuts through I-81.
“Did you like it?” they ask.
“Yeah,” I’ll respond, with a sly grin. They don’t know the half of it.
Part of attending JMU is about having a chip on your shoulder. People outside Virginia might not know where you went to college. People will ask questions about JMU’s football team with qualifiers. “Oh, they’re good! D-II, right?” If you haven’t met someone from the school or heard of the university previously, you don’t give it much thought. It’s just another university. Until, of course, you start to take a closer look.
The mid-major plight
It’s hard to be a mid-major. You never get respect until you’ve proven yourself a thousand times and even then detractors will cite your schedule as a weakness. That’s been true this year for JMU softball.
The Dukes went 47-7 in the regular season with wins over a handful of ranked foes. All of JMU’s losses came to teams in the top-100 of the RPI. It went 23-1 in games against conference opponents. Every major media outlet that covers softball projected the Dukes to earn a seed in the NCAA Tournament.
On Selection Sunday, the Dukes waited almost an hour to hear their name called as the selection show got to the No. 15 seed. Only, the Dukes weren’t seeded. Michigan, which JMU beat 3-0 on a neutral field earlier in the season, earned the nod. The NCAA Selecion Committee Chair said the Dukes’ schedule wasn’t “visually balanced” when citing why JMU was unseeded.
In English, that means JMU played good teams at the beginning of the year and then had to play a CAA schedule. Despite destroying conference opposition, the Dukes hadn’t done enough to earn a seed in a Regional. Such is the life of a mid-major. On to Ann Arbor.
If you’ve never been to Harrisonburg and only watched JMU’s Regional games, you’d think cars were replaced with tractors and a bunch of really crappy softball teams visit a few times a week to inflate the Dukes’ numbers.
Apparently, someone told the ESPN crew that Kierstin Roadcap once had a “Take Your Tractor to School Day.” It was a fun nugget of information the first time it was mentioned. The 83,489th time? Less fun, but a solid representation of the lack of preparation for a broadcast. There was no effort to learn about JMU or the Harrisonburg community, and why should there be? The Dukes were unseeded, and unseeded teams rarely make the Super Regionals.
At one point during a broadcast, the announcing crew questioned Megan Good’s credentials, wondering why the redshirt senior had never been to a Women’s College World Series. They talked about how she let too many runners on and that pitchers shouldn’t play with fire like that. They eventually get burned.
Well, Megan doesn’t. She’s been stellar in her JMU career. She leads all active pitchers in ERA and wins, which ESPN stated a few dozen times as one of its only JMU talking points. The Dukes’ ace is phenomenal, and she always has been.
The only people that thought the Dukes were severe underdogs in this Regional were those that were uninformed.
JMU faced plenty of challenges in the Ann Arbor Regional.
Let’s start with the first game against DePaul. The Dukes trailed 1-0 with Odicci Alexander in the circle before Sara Jubas broke open the tie with a clutch home run in the bottom of the fourth. Kate Gordon added a two-run blast in the bottom of the fifth to put the Dukes up 3-1 in a game they’d end up winning 5-2. Remember the names Jubas and Gordon.
In game 2, JMU faced it all. A 12-inning thriller against Michigan had a little bit of everything. Megan Good was dealing, and Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien matched her pitch for pitch. It was a heavyweight fight, and the Wolverines had the upper hand.
In the top of the 12th, the Dukes had a rally brewing before an egregiously bad call hurt the team’s chances. Jubas laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first, but was called out on the “bang, wait a few seconds, bang” play.
The rally eventually ended without a JMU run, and Michigan scored one in the bottom half of the frame to take home the victory. It was a gutsy performance for Michigan, and it put the Dukes’ backs against the wall.
A three-game journey
DePaul: Part 2
After a 12-inning marathon, the Dukes got another matchup with DePaul. You could tell JMU was a bit tired and emotionally drained from its matchup earlier on Saturday with Michigan. But the Dukes kept fighting. Kate Gordon smacked a pair of solo home runs and Roadcap added a homer of her own in the 3-0 win.
The DePaul win gets overlooked in the Megan Good frenzy and Monday’s games, but the Dukes’ season could’ve ended against the Blue Demons. Odicci Alexander pitched brilliantly before being pulled for Payton Buresch in the seventh with one out. DePaul loaded the bases with two outs. A home run would send the Dukes home. Instead, Buresch, who normally pitches to contact, struck out the final batter of the game and received a big hug and slap on the back from a relieved Loren LaPorte.
Buresch threw 2/3 of an inning in the Regional, and nobody is going to talk about it, but it mattered. The same goes for Alexander. She didn’t get a hit in the entire Regional, but threw 6 1/3 shutout innings in an elimination game when her team needed her. The ESPN crew talked about her subpar body language in the circle as she set down hitter after hitter. Could her body language have been better? Probably, but she was still dealing. No mention of that.
The DePaul win set up Monday’s madness. Without a strikeout from JMU’s third pitching option, I might not be writing this article. This three-game stretch was all about the team.
JMU and Michigan were supposed to meet to determine a Regional champion on Sunday afternoon, but Mother Nature wore purple this weekend. A day after throwing 180+ pitches, Megan Good got a much-needed day of rest as rain washed out Sunday’s action. The games were pushed to Monday, which likely meant there would be some empty seats on Monday afternoon.
Michigan: Part 2
It was Good vs. Beaubien once again. The two star pitchers battled each other throughout the afternoon game before JMU struck first on a home run to left field from Kate Gordon in the bottom of the third inning. The tide had turned.
After struggling to score against Michigan for the previous 14 innings, momentum was on the Dukes’ side. JMU fans made themselves heard and the dugout’s vibe changed completely. Kate Gordon is a stud, and she wanted Michigan to know.
JMU added an insurance run on a Sara Jubas homer and won the game 3-0 behind a stellar pitching performance from Megan Good. She worked her way out of a based loaded jam in the fourth inning and gave the Dukes a much-needed shutout.
Michigan: Part 3
I predicted JMU to win this Regional for one reason: Megan Good. The redshirt senior is a superstar and she showed why against the Wolverines. She yielded a single run in the 2-1 victory and hit a home run to give JMU a 1-0 lead. Add in an absolutely magnificent assist in the outfield from Cambry Arnold, and the Dukes were able to keep Michigan off the board until the seventh inning.
Once Michigan came to life, Good shut the door with a strikeout to send the Wolverines home.
Photo courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
It’s time to learn about JMU
It’s irritating. It’s annoying when people don’t know anything about JMU. It’s frustrating when people with similar backgrounds but a flashier college name on their resume get jobs over you. It’s agitating when people call JMU a D-II school because they can’t be bothered with FCS football. And it’s maddening when a team like JMU softball doesn’t get a seed because its schedule isn’t “visually balanced.”
They don’t know about us.
They don’t know about Cambry Arnold, who battled through injuries last season to come back and have a solid junior campaign. They don’t know about her speed or her ability to roam center field. You can label her a slap hitter and question her hop-step in the batter’s box all you want, but it worked in Game 7 of the Regional.
Her heart, energy and talent showed when she fired an absolute missile from center to nail a runner coming home to tie the game in a win-or-go home game on ESPN2. Did it matter that Arnold hadn’t played a visually balanced schedule this year when she made diving catch after diving catch against DePaul? Was her arm any less strong when she gunned down the Michigan runner to keep the Dukes in front because she played CAA teams this spring?
They don’t know about Hannah File. JMU’s leadoff hitter went hitless in the Regional until driving in Arnold with an RBI single that turned out to be the game-winning RBI. Her only hit punched the Dukes’ ticket to Los Angeles for a Super Regional against UCLA.
The stats don’t show her marathon AB before Gordon’s home run in Monday’s first game against Michigan. File and the Dukes have a lot of mercy-rule wins this season against CAA teams, but they fought hard every pitch against a national seed.
They don’t know about Kate Gordon. She likes to nod after taking a first pitch strike before turning to the dugout, smiling and stretching her arms by lifting the bat over her head. She needs to get loose — she’s almost certainly about to go deep to left.
They don’t know about Loren LaPorte. The coach who spent nearly a decade learning from Mickey Dean and has turned this JMU program into her own.
They don’t know about Kierstin Roadcap. The catcher who always finds the right words when her pitchers are in a bind, and the scariest .260 hitter in softball.
They don’t know about Sara Jubas. The sophomore shortstop never seems to make a mistake in the field and knocks the cover off the ball. On a deep shot to center field in the second game, she took a wide turn around first before falling flat on her face. She bounced back up, raced back to first and barely beat the throw.
While on the ground, she tossed her helmet off before looking up to the dugout and cameras with a big grin on her face. “Oh my god, that’s so embarrassing she said to her coach.” We assume she meant the fall, but with the way she hits home runs, maybe she was talking about coming up just feet short of clearing the center field wall and only hitting a single.
They don’t know about Megan Good. Man, oh man, they do not know about Megan Good.
You can spend a whole broadcast just talking about her stats. You can spend a dizzying amount of time reading through her various accolades over the years. But numbers don’t tell the full story.
Megan Good is great, but she’s seen her fair share of athletic heartbreak.
In her freshman season, Good went 29-3. The third loss came in the final game of the season, a 2-1 home loss in an NCAA Regional to Fordham. Good was out-pitched by Michele Daubman, who entered the game with just an 11-9 record. Good’s season ended with a loss in the circle as another team celebrated on her field.
In her sophomore season, Good played fantastically well in both the Regional and Super Regional, but her season ended with a home loss in the Supers. Her teammate Jailyn Ford struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in a 3-2 loss against LSU. Another season, another team celebrating at VMP.
In her junior campaign, the Dukes didn’t earn a seed and were sent to play Baylor in Waco, Texas. JMU lost twice to Baylor with Good in the circle both times. In the season finale, the Dukes failed to get a hit. She was once again outdone by an opposing pitcher.
Good then missed what was supposed to be her senior campaign with a knee injury. The rarely-injured Good saw Mickey Dean leave in the offseason and then saw her senior season go by the wayside due to an offseason injury. She decided she’d redshirt and come back for one more year.
In her redshirt senior campaign, Good has thrown some absolute gems. She’s also watched as Arizona and Arizona State hit walkoff home runs against her to beat the Dukes.
Megan Good isn’t perfect, and that’s what makes her JMU’s perfect athlete.
As her teammates came to the circle Monday evening in the bottom of the seventh inning, there was tension and concern. Good just allowed a solo home run to let the Wolverines back into the game, and the crowd came to life. JMU led 2-1, but needed two more outs to finish the job. Her teammates came in and the cameras zoomed in on Good, who said, “My bad, it’s okay.”
She repeated herself. “My bad, it’s okay.” She had made the mistake, but the redshirt senior was calming her teammates down. “It’s okay.”
She had been through too much for it not to be okay. She’s been a part of the JMU program for five years. She saw her left knee give out and cost her a season. She saw her head coach leave. She saw other teams celebrate on her home field. She saw senior teammates have their careers end in tears in a Super Regional loss. She’s seen a lot. And through it all, Megan has been more than okay. She’s been the best.
She’s JMU’s perfect athlete because she has a chip on her shoulder. She’s incredible, yet overlooked. She’s a hidden gem.
As the crowd roared, Good settled herself and ended Michigan’s season. She did it with a strikeout. A pitch in the dirt was whiffed, gathered by Roadcap and thrown to first base. JMU was headed to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2016.
They don’t know about us. They don’t know about Megan Good’s journey to greatness. They don’t know about Kate Gordon’s excellence or Cambry Arnold’s defensive prowess. ESPN is still going to call JMU the “Duke Dogs” when they get the occasional SportsCenter Top-10 play, and the NCAA Selection Committee is still not going to see a “visually balanced” schedule. The whole country is more or less oblivious to the hidden gem lying smack dab in the middle of I-81.
But one group did learn about JMU. As Good struck out the final batter, Michigan’s season came to a close. A proud fan base sat silently in the cold as fans sporting purple and gold high-fived and screamed out in joy. The Wolverines sat with their heads hanging, knowing that the same roster would never play together again. They watched as the Dukes celebrated on their field just two days after the Wolverines rejoiced a walkoff single and eight days after learning they would host a Regional.
They know about us. They know about Cambry Arnold. They know about Kate Gordon. They know about Sara Jubas. They know about Megan Good, Man, oh man, do the Michigan Wolverines know about Megan Good. And they’ll never forget.