The little kid on the block. The unseeded team that didn’t belong.
By Tuesday evening, despite being eliminated in the NCAA Division-1 Women’s College World Series semifinals in Oklahoma City by powerhouse Oklahoma, the Dukes walked off the field as the darlings of the softball world. A team that brought something spectacular to the sport and a talented pitcher who suddenly became the face of the sport after a defensive play that will be shown thousands of times in years to come.
Make no mistake about it, JMU earned every moment of glory it received as one of the top-4 teams still playing. No excuses needed for the loss. The JMU players, its coaching staff and its program proved they are the real deal.
Monday afternoon in the semifinal matchup against No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma, the two teams’ third game against each other in five days, the Dukes finally ran out of steam against a Sooner team that has an All-Star player at every position and a lineup that looks like a murderer’s row from the leadoff hitter to the last spot in the lineup. So much, in fact, that Oklahoma put a player in the cleanup spot Monday that had never hit there all season.
Still, the Dukes were one win away from the series final, and having already beaten Oklahoma in the World Series opener on Thursday, things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start when Kate Gordon blasted Oklahoma ace Giselle Juarez’s first pitch into the left-field stands to stake the Dukes to a quick 1-0 lead.
But, the Sooners scored two in the fourth to go up 2-1, and never looked back, adding four more runs in the fifth and a single run in the sixth off Jocelyn Alo’s solo homer. By that time JMU star pitcher Odicci Alexander had been pulled, But, Alexander had already established herself as one of the best pitchers in the nation, astounding sports fans everywhere with her grit in the circle.
When Alexander left the circle in the fifth, fans from both teams gave her a well-deserved standing ovation. She had pitched every game for the Dukes in their amazing run that included three wins in the Knoxville Regional, including victories over Liberty and Tennessee, winning the Columbia Super Regional by taking two-of-three over the Missouri Tigers, thus becoming the first team outside the major conferences to advance to the WCWS since 2014.
The Dukes wasted no time making themselves at home in Oklahoma City, knocking off the Sooners 4-3 in game-one on an extra-inning homer, and stunning the partisan Oklahoma faithful. One night later against Oklahoma State, Alexander made the play with her glove that will go down in softball history.
JMU held a 2-1 lead heading to the final inning and Oklahoma State looked. ready to pull off the win after a hit batsman and obstruction call left Cowboy runners on second and third with none out. One out later, a suicide squeeze bunt was fielded by Alexander, who made a leaping dive toward the runner, Karli Perry, streaking to the plate. The glove-hand tag by Alexander got the runner and she coaxed the final out for the win.
JMU had quickly become the Cinderella of the tournament and fans were jumping on the Dukes’ bandwagon.
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso told the media in her post-game interview Monday night that JMU had brought something special to the sport of softball.
“They (JMU) brought a lot of fans into the fold of college softball” Gasso noted. “They were fun to watch. Odicci’s an incredible pitcher, just an incredible athlete. Some of the plays she made I think will forever be in our minds. Janes Madison made our sport better because they brought a lot of people in that wanted to watch them.”
James Madison head coach Loren LaPorte was all smiles after the incredible run by her team.
“We’ve been making a name for ourselves, and I think people have just kind of fallen in love with what this team was able to do,” LaPorte commented. “To see a mid-major and a smaller school be able to do what we have done, it’s so exciting. I’m just so proud of our team for not being intimidated. If you think about what we just did, it’s crazy. We just beat the 9 team (Tennessee), the 8 team (Missouri), the 25th team (Liberty), the 1 team (Oklahoma), the 5 team (OKU) in three weeks.”
Alexander had pitched each of those wins. Oklahoma had defeated JMU 6-3 on Sunday to force the decisive game that was moved to Monday because of rain later Sunday afternoon.
James Madison softball also has a pair of ties to the Roanoke Valley. Loren LaPorte (then Loren Messick) was a standout for four years as a shortstop for the Roanoke College Maroons. LaPorte was a key factor in Roanoke winning a pair of ODAC championships (2005 and 2006) and earning NCAA regional bids both seasons, reaching the finals in 2006. Roanoke posted an impressive 118-38 record and 57-15 conference record during her four-year career as a Maroon. Loren Messick married her husband, Josh LaPorte (a former Maroon basketball player) in 2013 and the two are parents of a 5-year-old son, Holden.
LaPorte has a history of success as the JMU head coach. In her first season as head coach in 2018, she guided the Dukes to a 43-14 record including 19-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. In 2019 LaPorte led the Dukes to a historical season, finishing 51-10 (20-1 CAA) advancing to the NCAA Super Regional for the second time in school history. LaPorte was CAA Coach of the Year in 2018 and 2019. Prior to coming to JMU as an assistant 9 years ago, Laporte had assistant stints at both Roanoke College and Radford University.
Also, former Lord Botetourt pitcher Meredith Wells is a freshman pitcher for the Dukes after graduating from Botetourt in 2020. She committed to JMU in her junior season with Botetourt.