HARRISONBURG – College softball’s postseason begins today at Veterans Memorial Park, and James Madison is the favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament on its home diamond after rolling through the conference regular season with just one loss.
But the Dukes’ goals go beyond simply hoisting a trophy at the end of the week.
“We want to be able to host a regional again, that would be really cool,” JMU redshirt senior pitcher Megan Good said. “I remember my sophomore year we hosted a super regional, and that was maybe the best moment of my five years here. That atmosphere was just crazy. It made your adrenaline come up and as an athlete that’s what you want to feel. So to host again, that would be great.”
Softball America listed JMU as one of 16 regional hosts in its latest NCAA field projections, but it's hardly a lock for the Dukes, who finished the regular season 44-7 and 22-1 in CAA play. JMU heads into the conference tournament with an RPI of 14, while the next highest in the league is Elon at No. 74 and the rest of the CAA is ranked 120 or worse.
In other words, opportunities to pick up quality wins this week aren’t there for JMU, unlike teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC who are also in the mix for some of the final regional host bids. But the Dukes can avoid hurting their cause by winning the tournament title. For JMU, that starts at 4 p.m. against the winner of Drexel and College of Charleston, who open the day at 11 a.m.
“It’s all about mindset at this point,” JMU coach Loren LaPorte said. “Yes, we are very talented, but it’s going to take more than that to win these championships. But I really like where the team is at right now, not only with their play, but having a good time with one another.”
The talent is only one advantage the Dukes have heading into the conference tournament. Playing in front of the home fans, unlike many schools JMU is also done with classes and exams, so the focus this week is entirely on softball for the Dukes.
JMU is also fresh, having rolled through the CAA schedule so easily. Because of mercy rules, the Dukes have played 18 games that went less than a full seven innings. In total, JMU has been saved the equivalent of about three games and Good, the CAA Pitcher of the Year for the fourth time in her illustrious career, has thrown just 150 innings.
Odicci Alexander, who was named the CAA Player of the Year Tuesday for the second consecutive season, has thrown 124 innings. Both are rested and ready to go along with third pitcher Payton Buresch, and they all have ERAs of 2.02 or better.
“Not only do we have a pitching staff where anybody can take the mound and do well, it was nice to spread some innings out,” LaPorte said. “Then, when the team puts up that many runs and we can get some pitchers out early, it helps even more. That plays a huge part in why we feel like we do right now health wise.”
Even as heavy favorites, the Dukes won’t lack for motivation after hosting the tournament a year ago and seeing Hofstra pull off the upset to win the CAA title while Good sat out the season with a knee injury.
“Regardless of who we are playing, we just want to play JMU softball,” sophomore shortstop Sara Juba, who is hitting .415 with nine home runs, said. “We have the potential to big things, we just have to play our game.”