She became her own version of the players that she, for so many years, admired.
“I’d sit there in the cold and watch them and just see how much they grinded on the field,” James Madison softball left fielder Kate Gordon said. “I was able to talk with them about their work ethic, and I just really looked up to them growing up.”
The Page County product committed to the Dukes when she was a prep sophomore, she said, and had no problem regularly making the quick venture to Veterans Memorial Park for an up-close look at the team she’d eventually join and create her own legacy with.
And even during the shortened spring campaign caused by coronavirus concerns, Gordon was plenty good enough to add to her already-large stamp on the program.
In a March 6 home contest against Connecticut, Gordon belted two home runs to become the Dukes’ all-time leader in homers. The senior had five home runs in the last five games of the year to give her 50 for her career. She tallied 10 round-trippers to go along with a Division I-leading .557 average and 21 RBIs for the season.
“That [record] was an honor, but I had no idea that I broke it,” Gordon said during a phone interview on Wednesday. “I don’t ever look at that stuff. I just want to win. I don’t care about my own success, but the coolest thing is I’m on a list with some of the best hitters that I’ve looked up to like Jaylin [Ford], Erica Field and Taylor Newton. Those are players still to this day that I want to be like, and so to be on a list with those girls is an honor.”
Gordon passed former JMU star Ford and her own ex-teammate Megan Good this past month on the way to taking sole possession of the record.
“And our first weekend out, Kate actually struggled,” Dukes coach Loren LaPorte said. “I think she was putting a lot of pressure on herself and that she was trying to do too much. She was trying to hit home runs.”
LaPorte said Gordon even apologized to her after going 1-for-7 at the St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational to open the season.
“She was striking out on really bad pitches,” said LaPorte, before recalling the conversation the two had in one of the passenger vans the team used to commute around the Tampa area. “I was like, ‘Kate, you’ve got to understand the hitter that you are and that people aren’t going to throw you meatballs right down the middle. You’re one of the best hitters in the country. You’re an All-American, so you have to learn to take the walks if they give you the walks,’ and that’s what she started doing.
“Her walks went up. She was attacking the first pitches that were right down the middle and was being herself instead of doing too much. And when she gets comfortable, you better watch out.”
Gordon said: “I was out of my zone and stuff, so I watched a lot of video and gave myself a pep talk, too, to be more disciplined at the plate because to win you need all of your players and I can’t take myself out of the game, so I needed to do my part.”
The senior did her job undoubtedly – going 33-for-54 (.611) through the rest of the season, earning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week honors twice (Feb. 25 and March 10) and Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Player of the Week once (Feb. 25).
Whether this season was Gordon’s last or not is too early to determine since the NCAA won’t vote on eligibility relief for spring all athletes until Monday. But Gordon said, “Any opportunity I have to continue playing the game I love, reaching the community and being a person that little girls can look up to, I’m going to jump at it.”
Beyond Gordon, here were the other standout individual JMU athletes during the abbreviated spring:
College baseball never overwhelmed freshman Chase DeLauter in his first 16 games with the Dukes.
“We knew Chase would be a two-way guy for us,” JMU baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “And it was one of those neat things of ‘Where would we play him? And what part of the lineup would we hit him in? When’s he going to pitch?’ It’s hard as a two-way guy, especially as a freshman, to do all those things and it turned out to be a perfect scenario.”
DeLauter started on the mound for the Dukes on Sundays, played the outfield on Fridays, Saturdays and during mid-week contests while hitting atop the team’s lineup each day. He batted a JMU-best .382, scored 14 runs and drove in 14 runs, and had a thrill for heroics, tallying two walk-off hits during a three-game sweep of Quinnipiac.
As a pitcher, he had three outings of more than four innings and struck out 14 over 14 2/3 frames.
“It was one of the main reasons why I picked this school,” DeLauter said of his decision to attend JMU over offers from West Virginia and Pittsburgh. “It was so I could do both.”
There were aspects of her game Dukes lacrosse goalkeeper Molly Dougherty said she believed would help her improve.
And that’s how the reigning CAA Goalkeeper of the Year remained determined to keep getting better.
“I think the coaching staff and our game have pushed goalies to become more active,” Dougherty said. “So I think that’s something where [assistant coach] Kateri Linville really pushed the goalies as a unit, and I was just trying to do something new and approach it from a different angle than I did before, and maybe took a few more risks.”
The Alexandria native said she had always been comfortable making saves in the net, but the new philosophy forced her to regularly help the defense outside of the goal.
“So picking up ground balls, and trying to be more present more on the actual field instead of just making saves,” she said.
She collected three ground balls in the Dukes’ win over Rutgers, a contest in which she also made six saves. She had a season-high 14 saves to help JMU knock off Penn State 16-6.
Dougherty was named IWCLA/StringKing National Player of the Week for her efforts against the two Big Ten opponents.
For the season, she had a 50 percent save rate, which was 17th best in all of Division I.
“I feel very thankful for the defenders I had in front of me,” Dougherty said. “The four defenders, Emma Johnson being one of them, and Mairead Durkin, Rachel Matey, and Kristin Russell, made my job a lot easier and that’s all I could ask for, but it was going in a great direction of positivity and hard work.”
Dougherty said teammate Emma Johnson, a senior, “probably has the highest IQ when it comes to lacrosse of any person I’ve ever met.”
And Johnson, a defender, had embraced her newfound role as a captain by spreading her knowledge of the game throughout the rest of the roster and especially her position group.
“One of my strengths is that I have experience and that I am a veteran leader on this team,” Johnson said. “But some people hadn’t even stepped foot on the field, yet, so it was just being open and helping people out when they didn’t understand something. I was just used to being the youngest one out there within my unit and now I was the oldest one out there, taking care of a lot of underclassmen, so I was just figuring out the way to get my message across in the most positive way.”
Johnson said she leaned on assistant coach and former teammate Haley Warden to find her style of leadership, and that she thought it was working well through six games.
The defense had steadied and JMU allowed a fewer amount of goals than the game before in each of the last three contests.
Johnson, who was an All-CAA second-team choice in 2019, was 27th nationally in turnovers forced per game (1.83) when the season ended.
“I mean I played behind some of the best players to ever come through JMU,” she said, “so to finally show off everything that they taught me was something crazy.”
Missouri still probably doesn’t have any clue about how to pitch to softball infielder Sara Jubas.
“She can hit a lot of pitches really well,” LaPorte said, “if that makes sense. She’s a very hard out. She doesn’t swing outside the zone. She’ll take the walks, but she doesn’t strike out a lot and she doesn’t miss her pitch.”
Against the Tigers at the St. Pete/Clearwater Invitational, Jubas was 4-for-5 with a home run, a double and four RBIs, aiding the Dukes in a thrilling 8-7 extra-inning victory.
And that performance was a snapshot of Jubas’ season as the junior finished hitting .439 through 66 at-bats. She had 10 multi-hit games and slugged five home runs and seven doubles for the year.
“I think definitely discipline,” Jubas said, “and knowing which pitches I wanted to go up to the plate looking for was something I was working on.”
She was the CAA Player of the Week twice (Feb. 18 and March 2).
In his sophomore season, Kyle Novak was only building on what he had done the year before.
He added to his game becoming reliable enough with his glove to start six times in the infield at first base when he wasn’t occupying his regular designated hitter spot.
“We handed him a first baseman’s mitt in January,” Ikenberry explained, “because you never know what could happen, and he ended up swinging it so well and playing such a great defensive first base when Chase pitched. Because somebody had to come out of the lineup when Chase pitched, but we didn’t know who, and so [Novak] did a really good job of adjusting on the fly.”
Whether he was starting first or at designated hitter, Novak was a fixture in the three-spot of the lineup. He hit .317 and had a team-high 16 RBIs.
This was the kind of start Justin Showalter had envisioned.
“I’ve always been a groundball pitcher and have pitched to contact,” the Turner Ashby graduate told the Daily News-Record earlier this month, “and avoided the mistake. And because of my movement, I don’t have to worry about hitters blasting the ball all over the field. I just need to put it out there and let them create the outs.”
The approach Showalter used – one of pitching to weak contact – couldn’t have worked any better for the Dukes. He was 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA over 26 2/3 innings. He tossed the program’s first one-hit shutout since 2009 when he blanked Quinnipiac and strung together a stretch of 24 2/3 frames without allowing an earned run, which was the longest such stretch for any JMU pitcher since 1995.
Showalter led the CAA in wins and opposing batting average (.144).
“He showed spurts of it in his first two years here,” Ikenberry said. “You knew that here’s a guy that’ll fall into a role and we knew it. That’s kind of the maturation process in college baseball – you basically take a year or two to find your role and then you stick to it for the last two years. That’s what Justin was doing.
“He was pitching really well and we were playing really good defense behind him, and when he took the mound, guys were fired up to play behind him because he was going to pitch to contact and guys could play defense.”