HARRISONBURG — At 12:02 p.m. on Thursday, Hofstra leadoff hitter Rachael Senatore lined the first pitch she saw in the bottom of the first into left field. It would be almost two hours until the Pride put another runner on base against James Madison ace left-hander Jailyn Ford.
“It was the Jailyn Ford show today,” Hofstra softball coach Bill Edwards said.
Ford, working with pinpoint accuracy and a strong rise ball, changeup and curveball, buckled down after Senatore, retiring 19 straight batters all the way into the seventh inning before issuing a one-out walk. By that point, the game — an 8-0 win for the top-seeded Dukes to put them into the Colonial Athletic Association championship game today at noon at Veterans Memorial Park — was well in hand.
JMU (43-13), hosting the tournament for the first time and seeking its first CAA softball title since 2009, will play fourth-seeded Towson, which Madison beat 3-2 Wednesday. If the Dukes win the noon game, they will claim the championship; if they lose, the two teams will play a final game at 2:30 p.m.
The CAA Pitcher of the Year, Ford bounced back from a so-so start against Towson on Wednesday to dominate the Pride, allowing just one hit and one walk in a complete-game win in front of 425 fans.
“It was a great feeling because when she’s on, she’s on,” JMU center fielder Niki Prince. “It’s really hard to hit her, and when they started missing her, I was like, ‘This is going to be a good game.’”
James Madison’s youthful lineup filled with freshmen and sophomores also broke out Thursday. The Dukes, now on a 14-game winning streak, had scored eight or more runs only once in the last month, but against Hofstra starter Morgan Lashley, JMU did plenty of damage early.
The 23rd-ranked Dukes scored in the second, third, fourth and seventh innings, highlighted by a Taylor Newton three-run home run to center field in the fourth inning to give JMU a 6-0 lead. Prince also homered in the third inning, part of a nine-hit effort for the Dukes that included five extra-base hits.
“We’ve been on kind of a downslope for the past two weeks and I think today we started to break it open,” said Ford, who out of the cleanup spot went 1-for-3 with a run scored. “We got a little bit more focused, and this is a good time of the season to be focused.”
Working with a lead for most of the game, Ford attacked the Hofstra lineup all afternoon. After a 115-pitch game against Towson the day before, she used just 69 pitches (46 strikes) to navigate seven one-hit innings. It was the fewest pitches she has thrown in a complete game in her two-year career at JMU.
“JJ is the kind of kid, she’s a special kid, and she’s going to try and control the game and try and take it over,” JMU coach Mickey Dean said. “She’s smart, too. Today, she attacked those hitters knowing that she may have less strikeouts, but she’s got kids behind her playing hard and playing easy-free.
“Jailyn does really well in big-time games, she always has. I just told her before the game to go attack, attack the entire game, don’t worry about pitching seven innings, just go attack.”
The aggressive game plan was the right strategy. Third-seeded Hofstra (33-12), which had won 11 straight games coming in, struggled to lay off pitches out of the strike zone.
“She had great stuff, great movement and she had such good stuff that we got away from our game plan,” said Edwards, who has led Hofstra to 14 NCAA tournaments. “She had us leaving the zone, something we haven’t done in a while. … She had us all over the place, which was a credit to her pitching.”
Dean said he will choose today’s starting pitcher in the morning, deciding between junior right-hander Heather Kiefer or opt for Ford for a third straight day. He likes to look his pitchers in the eye on game day rather than mapping out a pitching schedule.
After a sloppy win over Towson, JMU had a talk. According to Dean, the Dukes cut into their morning practice time before the game and held a team meeting, stressing the importance of playing loose and just enjoying the game.
“Today they came out relaxed and they played,” Dean said. “Everything [was better] and I think our upperclassmen helped with that. To say, ‘Let’s just go play — it’s softball.’”
The freshmen responded to the message, playing an error-free game behind Ford and driving in five of the eight runs.
“I think the freshman as a whole did really well today,” Prince said. “Of course we were going to be a little nervous in the first conference [tournament] game we’ve ever played. The older girls just told us to relax and that we’ve done this before and that we’re good enough to play with the big dogs.”
JMU 021 300 2 – 8 9 0
Hofstra 000 000 0 – 0 1 1
Ford and Field; Lashley, Pirone (4) and Trippi. W—Ford (23-6). L—Lashley (17-5). HR—JMU: Prince (6), Newton (7).
Towson 8, Charleston 6: Starting pitcher Missy McCormick homered twice and drove in six runs as fourth-seeded Towson defeated second-seeded Charleston 8-6 in a Colonial Athletic Association softball tournament elimination game Thursday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park.
The Cougars are 40-16.
Charleston 002 100 3 – 6 7 1
Towson 210 050 x – 8 8 2
Klicker, Martin (6) and Maples; McCormick and Cahill. W—McCormick (16-10). L—Klicker (20-12). HR—Charleston: Vaughn; Towson: McCormick 2 (12), Dunham (6).
Towson 5, Hofstra 4: Left fielder Jessica South hit a solo home run in the third inning, and Missy McCormick earned her second win of the day as fourth-seeded Towson held off Hofstra 5-4 in a Colonial Athletic Association softball tournament elimination game Thursday evening at Veterans Memorial Park.
The Tigers, who advanced to play top-seeded James Madison today at noon, improved to 29-24; the defending two-time CAA champion Pride are 33-13.
Hofstra 100 101 1 – 4 8 3
Towson 401 000 x – 5 9 3
Pirone, Lashley (2) and Trippi; McCormick and Cahill. W—McCormick (17-10). L—Pirone (16-6). HR—Hofstra: Bailey 2 (6); Towson: South (5).