Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
That just happened.
JMU softball defeated No. 1 Oklahoma 4-3 in eight innings to open the Women’s College World Series. The Dukes move to the winner’s bracket.
I’d be lying if I said I expected that. You’re probably lying if you say you expected it.
But the Dukes, they always believed. Odicci Alexander never doubted her game. Kate Gordon didn’t let a hitting slump stand in the way of her go-ahead home run. JMU’s team acts like it’s the best team in the sport.
Who am I to say they’re wrong?
After that game, they’re in the mix for a national title. And man, what a game it was.
Sara Jubas hit a three-run home run in the top of the third and let out a yell as she sprinted around first. JMU fans collectively lost their minds. The Dukes gained momentum quickly.
Then, it seemed like reality would set in.
Oklahoma answered with a three-run home run. That was it, right? The Sooners would steamroll forward and JMU fans would Tweet about their pride in the Dukes for fighting hard, while getting ready to watch JMU compete Saturday in the loser’s bracket with minimal expectations.
*Lee Corso voice* Not so fast, my friend.
Alexander steadied, and the Dukes hung close. Like a gnat in July, they just wouldn’t leave Oklahoma alone. This is an Oklahoma team that beats everyone. Like, everyone.
The Sooners beat Team Mexico three times this spring in exhibitions, winning by a combined score of 25-4. Yes, Team Mexico. A national team was blown out by OU.
They’ve scored 33 runs in a game this year. They average more than 10 runs per game, and win each game by an average of 9.5 runs.
JMU must’ve missed the memo. Just like it missed the memo about unseeded teams bowing out before Super Regionals. Just like it missed the memo about Missouri being a better team that was poised to sweet the Dukes.
The Dukes were unfazed Thursday. They weren’t rattled by an elite opponent. They weren’t rattled by a massive stadium. They weren’t rattled by the Sooners popping out of their dugout at random pauses to fire up a pro-Oklahoma crowd. They weren’t rattled by heavy media coverage.
Heck, Kate Gordon wasn’t rattled by a clear ball thrown at her ankles in the top of the eighth on a 3-0 pitch.
Gordon smiled, as if to say, “I’d rather still hit, thanks!”
She stayed in the batter’s box, and took a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall for a 4-3 JMU lead. Oklahoma probably wishes it walked her.
Alexander finished the job in the eighth, becoming the first college pitcher this season to hold Oklahoma to fewer than four runs in a game.
JMU is a mid-major. It played CAA teams for most of the year. Yeah, CAA squads had to deal with THAT team all spring. The one that just beat No. 1.
The Dukes don’t get a lot of press. Often times the school appears on ESPN’s bottom line as “J Mad” or “J Madison” or something outlandish like “James Mad.” What’s James so damn mad about?
On paper, it’s a program that should be happy to be in Oklahoma City. The Dukes should wilt under pressure, having never played on this stage.
Thursday, most expected to hear a few fun facts about the Dukes before watching the Sooners win by a few runs and continue their path to becoming the best team in college softball history. This was an appetizer for the rest of the day’s games, which should be more competitive.
JMU must’ve missed that memo, too.
Someone from the Power 5 really needs to add the Dukes to the email list.