Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
It’s not a Cinderella story, but it’s still historic.
It’s not a surprise, but there were moments of doubt.
It’s not a David vs. Goliath situation, but it’s still the biggest triumph of the year.
JMU softball is headed to the Women’s College World Series for the first time.
Every JMU softball fan knew that was a possibility since the season started. Many truly believed after seeing the NCAA Tournament field. The draw set up well for the Dukes.
While those in Harrisonburg saw this coming, the road to Oklahoma City was anything but easy.
Odicci Alexander missed a chunk of the regular season with a hamstring injury, leaving the Dukes without their ace. Alissa Humphrey and Alexis Bermudez stepped in beautifully to lead the Dukes to a nearly perfect regular-season record.
When Alexander came back, she quickly regained elite form.
Armed with their ace, JMU cruised through the CAA Tournament.
Entering the postseason, JMU fans knew the Dukes could win the Knoxville Regional. That also meant needing three wins against Liberty and Tennessee. That’s not easy.
JMU delivered, going 3-0 and advancing to face Missouri. The Dukes could’ve lost the first game against Liberty, a thrilling 4-3 win in 10 innings. Instead, they gutted out a win and followed it up with comeback wins over Tennessee and the Flames to win the Regional.
The team was impressive in Knoxville, catching the attention of college softball fans nationally.
In Missouri, the Dukes faced a hostile home crowd with a handful of wannabe umpires behind home plate. They might’ve been better than the actual home plate umpire in Game 1.
A close game throughout, JMU manufactured a pair of runs in the top of the seventh to lead 2-0 in Game 1. The Tigers, thanks to a strike zone that was zapped by a shrink ray, pushed one across in the bottom of the inning and had a chance with the bases loaded and two outs to walk it off or tie the game.
Alexander forced a fly out.
In Game 2, the Tigers jumped all over the Dukes. They won 7-1, and while a handful of the runs allowed were unearned, it was clear Missouri was seeing Alexander well.
Game 3 saw JMU fall down 1-0 after allowing a solo home run to Missouri’s first batter. The Dukes didn’t quit with their season on the line. They battled back.
At that point, all the momentum was with Mizzou. Regaining momentum on the road in an elimination game is extremely hard. JMU did it.
JMU’s offense came alive, just as it had in the third game of the Regional. JMU won 7-2 behind a complete team showing. Alexander was the star, but standouts like Logan Newton made huge plays.
Even with Kate Gordon struggling, JMU steamrolled an SEC team at their place.
Trailing 1-0 after a 7-1 loss to a top-10 SEC team in a Super Regional elimination game is not an ideal spot. JMU turned a lack of momentum into a five-run series clinching win.
To reach Oklahoma City, JMU softball has gone 5-1 in games against Liberty, Tennessee and Missouri. Every game came away from home.
No, it’s not a Cinderella story.
JMU has been to three Super Regionals in the last five seasons. The Dukes came one swing away from the WCWS in 2016.
JMU isn’t crashing the party. Still, what JMU did is exceptional.
The Dukes are the first unseeded, non Power-5 team since Louisiana in 2014 to make the WCWS. That says something about the Dukes … and the NCAA Selection Committee undervaluing the program for years.
JMU becomes the first Virginia team since Virginia Tech in 2008 to advance to the WCWS.
And, of course, it’s the first time JMU has made it to Oklahoma City.
Fans of JMU aren’t surprised one bit by this team. The Dukes are special, but my goodness, what a remarkable run.
And it’s not over yet.