- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2010.
- Graduate of the University of Florida.
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — James Madison proved to have one big advantage on No. 1 seed Oklahoma and the most prolific offense in college softball: pitcher Odicci Alexander.
Behind a masterful pitching effort from Alexander and a game-winning home run from Kate Gordon in the top of the eighth inning, James Madison shocked the Sooners 4-3 on Thursday afternoon in the first Women’s College World Series appearance in program history.
Since seeding began in 2005, Oklahoma is just the second national No. 1 seed to lose in the WCWS to an unseeded team, joining Florida in 2008.
Alexander threw a complete-game six-hitter, frustrating Oklahoma’s best hitters and holding the Sooners to a season-low three runs. Afterward, with ice on her right shoulder during postgame videoconference interviews, Alexander said the key to her performance was keeping Oklahoma off balance.
“I think just mixing up my pitches, not really throwing the ball to the same spot each time,” Alexander said. “Just making sure it moves. Because they’re great hitters. I was just trying to focus on each pitch, not make them hit it over the fence.”
Oklahoma did go over the fence once, when Tiare Jennings hit a three-run home run in the third. That was an answer to Sara Jubas hitting a three-run home run in the top of the third to give James Madison a 3-0 lead. From that point forward, Alexander proved to be problematic for Oklahoma, a team that went into the game leading Division I in scoring, batting average, home runs and slugging percentage. The Sooners average 2.81 home runs per game — better than the Division I record of 2.39.
But on the other side, Alexander had put together a stellar season of her own, entering the game with a 1.08 ERA and ranking fifth in strikeouts per seven innings.
As Alexander did her best to keep Oklahoma off balance, the Sooners struggled to adjust, and that ended up having a cumulative effect on their best hitters. Jocelyn Alo, softball’s player of the year, went 1-for-2 with two walks.
“Alexander is really, really good,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “The ball gets on you really, really fast. The ball breaks really, really hard. She changes speeds really, really well. So you better have a good plan.
“I think at the plate, some of our plans got lost. You can see that by the way we were swinging. So we need to figure out why. Why did our plans get lost? Were the lights too big for you? Was the speed too fast for you? The video will tell us exactly what we need to know, so we can work on fixing that as we go forward.”
With the Oklahoma offense frustrated, James Madison knew it had an opportunity when the game went into extra innings. Headed into the eighth, coach Loren LaPorte pulled Gordon aside and told her to take a deep breath and calm down. Gordon had struggled during the NCAA tournament, and she knew if she could at least get on base, Jubas would have a chance to make something happen.
But she did better than get on base. She slammed a home run over the left-field wall for what turned out to be the game-winning run. It was her first hit in her past 14 at-bats.
“I don’t ever think any of them are out,” Gordon said. “I just run hard. I was like, ‘Go, ball, go, ball, go, ball.’ They’re great outfielders; I know they like to rob home runs. So I was just like, ‘Keep going.'”
In the dugout, Alexander said, she nearly cried.
“That at-bat, I knew it was coming,” Alexander said. “I took a deep breath myself and said I wouldn’t want anybody up in that box but Kate. I was praying. When she hit it out, I knew it was out. I said, thank you, Jesus. I almost cried a little bit. I couldn’t be more proud of Kate.”
Source: Read Full Article