James Madison’s historic run in the NCAA softball tournament is over, but the Dukes have certainly made their mark.
No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma beat JMU in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series for the second straight day Monday, winning 7-1 in Oklahoma City to claim a berth in the finals.
JMU (41-4) finished 2-2 in its first trip to the Women’s College World Series. The unseeded Dukes and fifth-year senior ace Odicci Alexander made a national splash, captivating sports fans around the nation.
“A lot of people didn’t really think that we could do this, but we believed in ourselves, we stayed within ourselves and we fought,” said Alexander, who went 2-2 in Oklahoma City. “To see the impact that we have on people around the country, it’s amazing.
“Coach [Loren LaPorte] just said in the locker room we will go down as one of the best teams at JMU. To leave that as your legacy at your university, I have no words. … I’m just so proud of everyone.”
The Dukes had stunned Oklahoma 4-3 in eight innings last Thursday and beat fifth-seeded Oklahoma State 2-1 last Friday, becoming the first unseeded team to ever win its first two games in the Women’s College World Series.
“They brought a lot fans into the fold of college softball,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “They were fun to watch. Odicci’s an incredible pitcher but [also] just an incredible athlete. Some of the plays that she made I think forever will be in our minds.
“James Madison made our sport better because they brought a lot of people in that wanted to watch them.”
JMU went 3-0 to win the Knoxville Regional, then took two of three games from Missouri to win the Columbia Super Regional. JMU became the first team from outside the major conferences to make the Women’s College World Series since 2014.
The Dukes fell one win short of becoming the first team from outside the major conferences in 27 years to advance to the finals of the Women’s College World Series.
“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 said.
“To see a mid-major and a smaller school be able to do what we have done, good Lord, it’s so exciting. … I’m just so proud of our team for not being intimidated.
“The chemistry was amazing, because it’s hard, getting up every morning in the fall and doing what they do. You have to love the game and you have to love each other to be able to get through it. … This year, they loved coming to get better.”
James Madison and Georgia were the only unseeded teams in the eight-team Women’s College World Series field, becoming the first unseeded squads to reach Oklahoma City since 2012.
“If you … think about what we just did, it’s crazy,” LaPorte said. “We just beat the [No.] 9 team [Tennessee], the 8 team [Missouri], the 25th team in Liberty, the 1 team, the 5 team in three weeks.”
The Sooners (54-3) beat JMU 6-3 on Sunday to force Monday’s second and decisive game of their semifinal series.
Alexander (18-3) lost to the Sooners for the second straight day, allowing six runs Monday before being pulled in the fifth inning. She surrendered seven hits and four walks while striking out three in 4 2/3 innings.
“I was tired,” she said. “I did throw a lot this past season. That was … my third time seeing them and it was tough.”
Alexander, who went 6-2 with one save in the NCAA tournament, wept as she was pulled from the game. The crowd — including Sooners fans — gave her a standing ovation as she walked to the dugout.
“To see them all clapping for me and cheering me on, it was a great moment and it warmed my heart,” Alexander said.
Alexander pitched 64 2/3 innings in the NCAA tournament, throwing 1,057 pitches.
“She worked her butt off this whole week,” Oklahoma center fielder Jayda Coleman said.
“She is a baller,” Sooners pitcher Giselle Juarez said.
Juarez (21-1) pitched a four-hitter Monday. The left-hander struck out 11 and walked one.
Kate Gordon sent Juarez’s first pitch over the fence, giving JMU a quick 1-0 lead.
The Sooners scored twice in the fourth. Nicole Mendes tripled and scored on a wild pitch. After a walk and a fielder’s choice grounder, Coleman singled and Jana Johns hit an RBI single.
Oklahoma scored four more runs in the fifth. After two singles, Mackenzie Donihoo hit a two-RBI double. After a hit batsman, Coleman had a two-RBI double. After another hit batsman, LaPorte pulled Alexander.
In the sixth, Jocelyn Alo homered off Alissa Humphrey.
“It’s the best offense … we have ever seen,” LaPorte said.
JMU 0100 000 0 — 1 4 0
Oklahoma 000 241 x — 7 10 0
Alexander and Bernett Juarez and Elam. W—Juarez (21-1). L—Alexander (18-3). HRs— JMU: Gordon OU: Alo.