By Bennett Conlin
Lynsey Meeks motored into third base with JMU leading 6-4 in the top of the sixth inning. What happened next, well that was peak Lynsey Meeks.
The excitable redshirt junior, who is about 11 inches tall enough to ride all the rides at an amusement park, slid into third base, got up and turned to her dugout. She was about to put on a show that would make “The Rock” jealous.
Meeks started flexing.
She let out a scream on the first flex, before really showcasing her muscles. This felt like someone flexing who absolutely had flexed before — both in front of a mirror and in front of her peers.
Head coach Loren LaPorte had to wait to give her player a high five because the flexing was mixed with a quick dance move … followed by another flex.
While the triple — which led to a run when freshman Lauren Bernett ripped a two-run shot over the right field fence to put the Dukes up 8-4 — wasn’t the most important hit of the game, it set up Bernett’s dagger. It’s the type of play that makes JMU fans flock to the TV every spring and summer to watch this program.
JMU softball, sparked by infectious energy from Meeks, clutch hits from Sara Jubas and Kate Gordon, and an all-time pitching performance from Odicci Alexander, punched its ticket to a Super Regional with three weekend wins. The final came Sunday, when JMU defeated Liberty 8-5.
This isn’t the team’s first time under national pressure.
JMU made a Super Regional in 2019. That season, the Dukes had an entire day of Regional games washed away due to weather. While they didn’t play, the social media accounts showed that they spent most of the day in an indoor facility practicing … and dancing.
The next day, they beat No. 15 Michigan in a pair of elimination games.
In 2016, with part-time softball star and part-time team cheerleader Madyson Moran egging on a packed crowd, JMU hosted a Regional and a Super Regional. The Dukes came short in the third game of the Super Regional, but they endeared themselves to JMU faithful with superb play and remarkable energy and spirit that led to a Regional win and nearly a Women’s College World Series apperance.
JMU is a proud program with rich recent history, regardless of the shock from national experts when the team picks up victories against Power 5 programs. The Dukes showed why they’re so elite this weekend.
Odicci Alexander tossed 360 pitches over three games. She struck out 30, including a program-record 19 in a 10-inning win over Liberty in Friday’s Regional opener. In hindsight, that win was arguably the team’s most important.
It set up a Saturday game with No. 9 Tennesee, and Kate Gordon loves playing Tennessee. Gordon hit a three-run bomb, and Alexander went to work. JMU won 3-1 to move to Sunday without a blemish on its postseason resume.
On Sunday, the Dukes met the Flames again. Liberty ousted the Vols on Saturday. JMU had two chances to advance, if needed. Instead, the group turned in an amazing come-from-behind 8-5 win to get the job done in one game.
Alexander was solid yet again, and Alissa Humphrey provided a massive lift in relief. She recorded five outs and changed the speed Liberty was used to seeing. When Alexander reentered the game, the Flames were out of sorts against the ace.
JMU added insurance runs late and won 8-5.
It was a special weekend, and a complete team showing. Sara Jubas delivered in huge moments at the plate, and she played well defensively.
Gordon came up big against Tennessee. Alexander starred all weekend. Madison Naujokas and Logan Newton added important hits.
And wow, the bottom of the lineup was something else, especially on Sunday. Michelle Sullivan battled in every at-bat throughout the week. She’s a weapon at the No. 9 spot.
Pinch hitter Emily Phillips recorded a clutch RBI on Sunday. Bernett, who hadn’t driven in a run since April 3, hit a two-run home run in the sixth to extend the lead to four runs. That’s exceptionally clutch.
It felt like everyone contributed this weekend. The stars shined, and the younger role players absolutely brought their A games. That’s a good recipe in postseason play.
Up next? A Super Regional with No. 8 Missouri. It’ll be a fight to advance, the Tigers are good offensively and used a no-hitter Sunday to punch their ticket to next weekend.
JMU, however, has shown it can compete with top-10 teams. A best-of-three series gives Alexander ample chances on the mound, and it gives the bats some opportunity to get going. It’s going to be a fight.
I don’t know if JMU will make its first Women’s College World Series with a series win over Missouri. It’ll be tough.
I don’t know if Alexander will match her pitching performances of this weekend. She was unbelievable against Liberty and Tennessee.
I do know, however, that Missouri probably isn’t thrilled about drawing the Dukes. They’ve won 27 in a row, and they have their sights set on making program history with their first WCWS appearance.
I know that Kate Gordon is going to smile after taking a strike or falling behind in a count. It’s the type of smile that gives JMU fans confidence, but surely unnerves a pitcher.
I know Lynsey Meeks is going to flex and break out a few dance moves.
I know Sara Jubas will laugh as her friend at third base jokes around, but she’s still plenty ready to turn a filthy double play with Madison Naujokas at second.
I know that the broadcast crew will spend most of the games focusing on Missouri, while JMU Twitter erupts in frustration.
I know that JMU will enjoy itself, as the Dukes seem to have more fun the bigger the stage.
And I know I’ll be tuned in because there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching this program chase greatness.