Preview: JMU Softball Hopes to Win Los Angeles Super Regional

After a thrilling Regional, JMU softball moves to the second Super Regional in program history. The Dukes will face UCLA in Los Angeles this weekend in what’s sure to be a low-scoring Super Regional. While the Bruins are the No. 2 seed and the Dukes are unseeded, JMU has a legitimate shot to advance to the Women’s College World Series with Megan Good in the circle.

Let’s start with the basics on UCLA.

UCLA Basics

Record: 49-6 overall, 20-4 Pac-12

Runs per game: 7.02 (fifth in nation)

ERA: 1.39 (second in nation)

Top pitcher: Rachel Garcia (23-1, 1.02 ERA, 157 1/3 IP, 238 K)

Top hitter: Bubba Nickles (.408 AVG, 16 HR, 69 RBI)

The Bruins won the UCLA Regional to advance to this point. They did fall once to Missouri during the tournament but beat the Tigers 13-1 to punch their ticket to the Super Regionals. They’re one of the most complete teams in softball, and JMU will have its hands full getting out of this Regional.

Keys to the series

Garcia vs. Good – This series comes down to Megan Good vs. Rachel Garcia. It’s a best 2 out of 3 series with only one game each day. The Dukes are going to ride Megan Good until she can’t pitch anymore, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see UCLA take a similar approach with Garcia. Both teams have talented second and third options, but this series will be decided on the arms of two aces.

Both players experienced knee injuries in their playing careers. Both players are two-way players and are fearsome hitters. Both players are the best players on their respective teams. It’s going to be an incredible battle between the two.

Relief appearances – If UCLA calls on Megan Faraimo or Holly Azevedo, the Dukes need to take advantage of the secondary pitchers. If JMU brings in Odicci Alexander or Payton Buresch, the Bruins need to pounce. Here’s the issue: All four of those pitchers are fantastic and boast ERAs of 2.07 or lower. They’re slightly less dominant than their team’s respective ace, but all six pitchers in this series are tremendous. If JMU can get UCLA to go away from Garcia, the Dukes will have a slight edge. If UCLA forces JMU to bring in Good or Alexander, the Bruins gain a slight edge.

Kierstin Roadcap vs. UCLA’s speed – The Bruins aren’t crazy on the bases, but Kelli Godin and Briana Perez are a combined 42-46 on stolen base attempts. The entire UCLA team is 59-67 on the season. In what’s expected to be a low-scoring series, a key steal or two can lead to critical scoring opportunities for UCLA. Roadcap did a solid job of throwing out Michigan runners toward the end of the Regional, and her defense is going to be important for the Dukes to limit UCLA’s offense.

UCLA’s recent “woes

Woes might be a strong word, but the Bruins are 4-3 in their last seven games after starting the season 45-3. One common denominator in the recent close calls and losses is that Rachel Garcia normally doesn’t get the start in the circle. Garcia did lose 5-3 to Arizona recently and allowed five runs in seven innings, but she also struck out 15 in her only loss. When Garcia starts, UCLA is very tough to beat.

The Bruins are beatable in low-scoring affairs. This is true for most teams, as scoring fewer runs likely increases your chances of losing. (How novel!)

While UCLA is clearly one of the best teams in the country, the Dukes can do what they did to Michigan and try to win games by scoring just two or three runs. JMU’s best chance of advancing out of this Super Regional is by scoring a few runs per game and having Good and Alexander keep the Bruins under three runs.

Prediction

I truly think this Super Regional is a toss up. UCLA hasn’t been as consistent as it was in the middle of the season in recent weeks. The Bruins lost a series to Arizona before losing a home game to a Missouri team that’s 7-11 on the road this season. Even with those losses, UCLA is still one of the best teams in the country. Rachel Garcia might be the best pitcher in all of softball, and Bubba Nickels is an amazing hitter.

Both teams are built for this type of format as either group can lean on just one ace for three days. I think JMU becomes a top-5 team nationally in a best two out of three format, especially when that format only includes one game per day. Megan Good won’t have to throw two games in one day, and the Dukes’ lineup does well after having a full night to scout a pitcher after seeing them in person.

JMU beats UCLA in three games.

Beating Michigan on the road gave JMU a ton of confidence. They’re coming into this Super Regional hot, and the Dukes believe they can lean on Megan Good all the way to the Women’s College World Series. The lineup got going against a really great pitcher in Meghan Beaubien, and the Dukes have spent a few days in Los Angeles getting settled before the first game of the series.

They took a West Coast trip earlier this season which saw them blow winnable games against solid Pac-12 schools in Arizona and Arizona State, but the Dukes also beat Michigan on the trip. There’s absolutely no pressure on JMU in this Super Regional. They’re unseeded, and they aren’t a household name like UCLA. The Dukes are flying under the radar. If they lose, it’s still a great season. UCLA faces greater outside pressure and expectations.

JMU plays loose and wins this series to advance to the first Women’s College World Series in program history.

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