Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU softball made it Oklahoma City.
Job well done? Yes … and no.
The Dukes made program history just by reaching the Women’s College World Series. By every account, that’s a huge step and a successful season.
At the same time, Odicci Alexander and company are competitive. You don’t reach OKC without a burning desire to win. The Dukes didn’t come to OKC just for fun, they’re looking to shock the softball world.
If JMU loses two games 100-0, make no mistake that this team is still historic. But we imagine this group of exceptional competitors doesn’t want this magical journey to end just yet.
So what do the next few days look like for JMU? Let’s take a closer look.
The road ahead
Eight teams will compete in a double-elimination bracket to reach the WCWS finals. The two teams who survive the bracket will play a best-of-three series for the national title.
JMU’s road to OKC was somewhat favorable, with matchups against the No. 9 and No. 8 teams in the nation, at least according to see. Some national rankings had Tennessee and Missouri closer to the 15-20 range than in the top 10.
Now that the Dukes made it to OKC, it’ll get much tougher.
The Dukes open play Thursday at noon on ESPN against No. 1 Oklahoma. The Sooners are phenomenal … and honestly, a little bit scary. Some of their run totals make you wonder if you’re looking at a football score.
Should JMU find a way to win, it will face the winner of Georgia and No. 5 Oklahoma State on Friday. Should JMU lose, it will play an elimination game against the loser of Georgia and OSU on Saturday.
It’s an extremely tough path to advance deep into the tournament.
The Sooners are absurdly talented across the board, which helps explain why they’re 50-2 this spring.
They lead the nation in batting average at .421. The next best team has a batting average of .349. They’re the only team in the country to hit more than two home runs per game, as they average 2.81 per contest.
Not many teams can say they’ve scored 30 runs in a game this season, but Oklahoma checked that box. The Sooners scored 33 in a win over New Mexico. The game went five innings, and the Sooners didn’t even bat in the fifth. They scored 33 runs in four innings at the plate.
In the circle, Oklahoma is legit. It has an ERA of 1.90, the 15th best mark in the country. Senior Shannon Saile is a stellar arm with strikeout stuff. Fellow senior Giselle Juarez, who started her career at Arizona State, is also a talented arm in the circle with significant experience.
Oklahoma’s run differential is +494 this spring. That’s astounding.
The Sooners really don’t have a weakness. They clinched their Regional with a 24-7 win over Wichita State. That was the sixth time this spring OU scored 20 or more runs in a game.
Oklahoma deserves the No. 1 seed, and the Sooners should be the heavy national title favorite.
If JMU beats Oklahoma, it would be an epic upset. Dare I say an upset so big even JMU fans would be okay calling it an upset!
In all likelihood, JMU won’t get past the Sooners. Assuming the Dukes lose, beating the loser of Georgia and Oklahoma State in the Saturday elimination game is a fantastic goal. That would keep JMU alive in the tournament and give the program its first WCWS win.
From there, the path to the title game would be close to impossible. It would require another win over an elite squad before another potential matchup with Oklahoma.
JMU winning a national title is highly unlikely, but we could see the Dukes winning a game or two in OKC. The Dukes have come close to their ceiling this spring, and that’s a special accomplishment.
Loren LaPorte’s team made history this spring and anything this week feels like icing on the cake. If JMU stuns everyone and upsets OU, we’ll lose our minds and pivot to overly optimistic national title talk. If the Sooners keep steamrolling through teams and beat the Dukes, we’ll cheer our hearts out for one WCWS win later in the week.
Even if they don’t win in OKC, what an incredible season the Dukes have put together. This program and team are elite.