Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Two wins stand between JMU softball and the first Women’s College World Series appearance in program history.
Just two more wins, for a team that’s won 27 consecutive games.
These wouldn’t be two ordinary wins, though. The Dukes need to take down No. 8 Missouri twice on the road. The Tigers are the best team the Dukes have faced this spring.
Let’s break down JMU’s path to the WCWS.
Game time: Friday’s series opener will begin at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU. The second game of the series is scheduled for Saturday night at 7, and that game will also air on ESPNU.
Should the teams split the first two games, there will be a matchup Sunday. An official time for that game is not yet available, per the team websites.
Format: It’s a best-of-three format, meaning one team needs to take two games to punch their ticket to the WCWS. Unlike the Regional, the Super Regional is only against Missouri. All games take place at Missouri.
Opponent: Missouri is JMU’s Super Regional foe. The Tigers are an SEC team with an overall record of 41-15. They went 15-9 in the SEC.
Missouri made the Super Regionals by advancing out of the Columbia Regional, which it hosted. The Tigers allowed just two hits over three games, beating UIC, Northern Iowa and Iowa State by a combined score of 17-0. Missouri was impressive, although it’s worth noting that the team’s Regional didn’t include nearly the same level of competition as the Knoxville Regional.
The Tigers are led by head coach Larissa Anderson, who knows JMU well. She was a coach at Hofstra from 2002-18. She won a pair of CAA Tournament titles over JMU as the team’s head coach in 2015 and 2018.
On paper, Missouri’s strength is its lineup. That’s part of what makes last weekend’s pitching performances so scary. If Missouri pitches well, the Tigers are tough to beat.
Missouri, which played a tough schedule, ranks 11th nationally in home runs per game. The Tigers are ninth in scoring, tallying 6.64 runs per contest.
Liberty had a couple power threats. Missouri has a handful. Four players have at least 10 home runs and junior Emma Raabe is close behind with nine.
Senior catcher Hatti Moore might be the team’s most dynamic hitter. She’s tied for the team lead with 17 home runs and also hits .335 on the season. She went 7-9 in the team’s three Regional games.
Also keep an eye on Kimberly Wert. The senior infielder also has 17 home runs, including one in Regional play. The team’s lineup is deep and experienced, and it’s realistically the best group JMU has seen this season.
In the circle, Missouri has three pitchers with at least 75 innings of work this season. Sophomore Jordan Weber, who threw a no-hitter in the team’s Regional, leads the way with 108 1/3 innings of work. She’s solid.
Interestingly, Weber isn’t the team’s top strikeout option. That’s freshman Laurin Krings. She leads the team with 111 strikeouts in 88 innings.
Those are the two pitchers we’re most likely to see this weekend, although the Tigers do have another arm or two capable of logging innings.
How can JMU advance?
Stick to the same plan that worked in the Regional.
Odicci Alexander is the team’s ace, and she’s going to have to be effective for JMU to win the series. She’s faced Missouri before in her career, including a start in 2020 when she allowed seven runs across eight innings. JMU won 8-7 and she threw 175 pitches.
Alexander doesn’t need to be perfect this weekend, but she needs to give JMU a chance. If she holds the Tigers below their season scoring average and to somewhere around five runs per game, JMU can have a shot to advance.
Offensively, the bats need a good weekend. JMU scored four runs over 10 innings in the first Regional game against Liberty. One three-run homer was all the Dukes mustered against Tennesee. Eight runs against Liberty in the Sunday game showed what the Dukes’ offense can be when clicking.
Missouri’s pitching, on paper, isn’t quite as stellar as Tennessee’s. JMU should have chances to score, and it needs to given the Tigers’ prowess at the plate.
For JMU to advance, the formula is rather simple. Ride Alexander’s arm as long as you can, using Alissa Humphrey in relief if needed. At the plate, veteran stars like Kate Gordon, Alexander, Sara Jubas and Madison Naujokas need to produce.
Shutting down Missouri for an entire series seems unlikely, even with Alexander dealing. As the weekend goes on, the Tigers will likely adjust to Alexander’s pitching style and approach. It’s time for JMU’s offense to help shoulder the load and carry the team to the WCWS.
Expect competitive softball.
JMU absolutely can advance to the first Women’s College World Series in program history. It’s also very possible that Missouri builds off an impressive Regional showing and makes the WCWS in front of an energetic home crowd.
The Dukes have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them. Of the team’s three Super Regional appearances, this is probably the second-best chance to make the WCWS. The 2016 Super in Harrisonburg came at home against a No. 10 seed. JMU won the first game of that series and had legitimate chances in the second and third games. That season felt like the year the Dukes were destined to break through with both Jailyn Ford and Megan Good on the team.
The Dukes ultimately came up short, but they had two elite pitchers, a good lineup and home support. Coupled with a 1-0 series lead, JMU seemed destined to advance. They had every opportunity to punch their ticket to the WCWS and nearly did.
In 2019 against UCLA, the Dukes were longshots to even take one game against the eventual national champions. They struggled in a pair of road defeats.
This time feels closer to 2016, but JMU is the underdog this week playing at an SEC team’s home park. Missouri is the best team the Dukes have faced all season. The Tigers, like JMU, are well coached and confident. It should be a competitive weekend series.
It’ll take a special effort to make the WCWS, and JMU is plenty capable.