In a pitching duel between two aces, Jordan Weber and Missouri softball were defeated 2-1 in their first game of the super regional against Odicci Alexander and James Madison.
Tight matchups are not a new occurrence between these two ballclubs, as they went eight innings last season in an 8-7 win for the Dukes. The two play again at 6 p.m. Saturday, and James Madison has the chance to punch its ticket to the Women's College World Series for the first time.
Friday’s win was the 28th consecutive for the Colonial Athletic Association champion James Madison.
“We’ve been through a lot of pressure, but holy moly,” JMU coach Loren LaPorte said. “It took everybody. It was just such a big team win and I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a game like that in my entire life.”
The game was one for the cinemas. With a late first pitch under the lights in front of a record crowd of 2,632 and a raucous section of away supporters paired with the energy of the home fans, the two battled for the upper hand in the series. It was characterized by long at-bats and a home plate umpire with a flair for dramatic delayed calls.
The game was an intense matchup between Alexander and Weber from the beginning. Alexander threw 10 strikeouts, and Weber threw nine.
“(Weber’s) a really good pitcher,” Alexander said. “I know that as a batter because I’m on both sides of the ball.”
Before the seventh inning, there was only one hit on the scoreboard between the teams — a single from Missouri’s Brooke Wilmes in the bottom of the third. The only other baserunners that reached for either side were walked.
Then came the seventh inning.
Heading into her 13th consecutive hitless inning with a misting rain beginning to settle on players and spectators, Weber faced Alexander in the batter’s box. In a bit of a different battle between the pitchers, Alexander hit a chopper to shortstop Jenna Laird, who was unable to throw her out at first.
“It wasn’t the biggest hit,” Alexander said with a light giggle. “Just one little spark can spark us up.”
The Dukes went on to get the bases loaded. Pinch hitter Emily Phillips stepped up to the plate. With a pop to left that Missouri hitters have described as a “poster” in the past, she brought Alexander home for the first run of the game.
A sacrifice fly from catcher Lauren Bernett added another run to the Dukes' tally to make it 2-0.
“We got the bases loaded and scored a couple runs,” Alexander said. “That’s pretty much all I really needed to spark that moment. I’m glad I beat it out.”
The bottom of the seventh offered Missouri a lifeline.
Cayla Kessinger was walked and replaced by pinch runner Hannah McGivern to put a Tiger on base.
Emma Raabe then stepped up to the plate. Another walk.
Then Casidy Chaumont struck out.
Kendyll Bailey stepped up to the plate. Another walk.
Pinch hitter Alex Honnold stepped up to the plate in place of Abby George. Another walk.
McGivern touched home plate for free to make it a one-run game.
With a 2-1 game, two outs and the bases loaded, the crowd came to life. “Let’s go Tigers” chants echoed in unison across the stadium and competed with “JMU” chants from behind the Dukes’ dugout. Into the left-handed batter’s box stepped Wilmes.
Wilmes, who has arguably been Missouri’s top performer in the NCAA Tournament stepped up with the chance to walk it off. Down 0-2 in the count, Wilmes found a pitch that she liked. Through the dripping bats and with the rally caps on in the dugout, Wilmes made contact.
But her contact was a little bit underneath, and Alexander had the last laugh. The ball flew into left and was a simple grab for Kate Gordon to end the game, as a visibly distraught Wilmes sunk to a crouch at first.
“Alexander threw an unbelievable game,” Missouri coach Larissa Anderson said. “I tip my cap to her. She fought. She did everything she was supposed to do.”
The Tigers left the game frustrated on both sides of the ball. Missouri’s typically bombarding offense was held to just a single, and the defense was unable to get control of the seventh inning after some short hits.
“We gotta put more balls in play,” Anderson said. “We gotta be able to hit the ball hard. We really didn’t hit the ball hard at all today. I thought Jordan threw an unbelievable game and it’s frustrating to get beat on some infield hits.”
Weber was dealt her first ever collegiate postseason defeat, which saw her season record drop to 12-6. Alexander remains perfect on the season, with a 15-0 record heading into the Saturday game that she is near-certain to start in.
“It’s a little frustrating losing a game like that since it was a rubber match,” Weber said. “But props to (Alexander) for going into the seventh and finishing out that game.”
Ahead of Saturday’s do-or-die matchup, Anderson left her team with a message of giving everything they have in order to save the season and force a game three.
“(The message is) that tomorrow’s not our last game,” Anderson said. “You gotta lay it all on the field. You can’t be afraid of the result, you can’t hold back, you gotta give it everything you have every single pitch, because if you don’t, you’re gonna regret it.”