Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
JMU softball advanced to a Super Regional last season. The Dukes own a streak of seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. For a program that began in 2002, it’s been a rapid rise to national success.
Loren LaPorte leads a proud and surging program into 2020. She’ll do so without Megan Good, the best softball player to ever wear a JMU uniform.
Good leaves, but nearly every key contributor returns. Catcher Kierstin Roadcap won’t be with the program, and pitcher Payton Buresch transferred to Ohio State. Outside of those two players and Good, the Dukes return a boatload of talent.
Odicci Alexander and Kate Gordon? They’re coming back.
Sara Jubas and Hannah File? Yep, they’re still in Harrisonburg.
What about Madison Naujokas or Cambry Arnold or Logan Newton? Yes, yes and yes. They return.
Natalie Cutright, Victoria Figueroa and Hannah Shifflett also return.
Despite losing a few key players — and the Dukes lose three KEY players — JMU is good enough to make a Super Regional again this season.
Where do the Dukes turn without Good and Buresch? That’s the obvious question. The obvious answer is Odicci Alexander. She’s won CAA Player of the Year the past two seasons, and she’s proven capable of being a team’s best pitcher. The Dukes should have no concern with Alexander as their ace.
After Alexander, the Dukes desperately need a second pitcher capable of beating ranked teams. To make a Super Regional or the College World Series, you need multiple pitchers to chip in.
Sophomore Isabel Kelly, a talented pitcher from New Jersey, is the lone returner outside of Alexander. She’s never thrown a collegiate pitch, but she’ll be in the competition to earn playing time.
With Buresch leaving to transfer, the Dukes brought in a pair of pitching transfers of their own.
Alexis Bermudez comes to JMU from Bethune-Cookman, where she was the 2019 MEAC Pitcher of the Year. The CAA is a step up from the MEAC, and top-25 teams are a massive step up from MEAC play. She’s clearly talented, but her previous experience against solid Power 5 schools shows room for growth.
At the least, Bermudez adds depth to help take innings away from Alexander in CAA play. At best, she can develop into a quality No. 2 or No. 3 starter this season. She’ll also add value next season, as she’s a junior this year.
The other transfer is Kayla Boseman, who comes from Mississippi State. Boseman, a sophomore, played sparingly for Mississippi State, but she performed well at the plate and as a pitcher. She was the 39th-best recruit in the 2018 high school class.
Boseman possesses the talent to become an elite D1 pitcher. Can she develop enough this season to be a quality No. 2 option? That’s a key question.
Fortunately for the Dukes, they have one of the best offenses in the country. It’s easier to develop quality pitchers when they’re facing elite hitters every day at practice.
Alexander is a proven commodity against the best of the best. The other three pitchers aren’t. One of them needs to step up this season for JMU to reach its potential.
JMU smacked a program-record 102 home runs a season ago. That put the Dukes among the nation’s best when it came to power hitting. The bats crushed CAA foes, but were a bit quieter in the NCAA Tournament.
Finding consistency at the plate against the best 10-15 teams in softball is the next step for a program that dominates conference foes at the plate. Given the returning talent, this could be the year the Dukes make that step.
Kate Gordon returns after hitting 23 homers a season ago. She was at her best against great teams. Sara Jubas returns and brings plenty of pop to the lineup. We know what Odicci Alexander brings. Hannah File is great. Cambry Arnold and Madison Naujokas add speed and contact. Both players get on base and set the table for the power hitters.
It’s an exciting offense. Add in players like Kayla Boseman, who possesses tremendous power, and the Dukes’ offense looks scary in 2020. Keep an eye on Victoria Figueroa, who hit .385 in 16 at-bats and looked very good as a freshman. She’s a talented sophomore who could play an important role on this year’s team.
Logan Newton, a junior, might be the most underrated player on the team. She’s emerged as a solid hitter last season, and if she takes another step forward, she’s someone who needs to be in the lineup every game. She gets overshadowed by players like Alexander and Gordon, but Newton is one of the better hitters on the team, and she’s one of the few power lefties on the roster.
The entire lineup is loaded, and the Dukes should be one of the nation’s best hitting teams.
The schedule isn’t bad. Three of the team’s first four games comes against ranked squads. Other matchups with North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia Tech offer even more opportunities to beat teams that are either ranked or close to being ranked.
Unfortunately, CAA play hurts JMU tremendously. The selection committee showed last season that it doesn’t consider the CAA to be a good league, and those wins mean very little. The committee rewards teams with wins over ranked teams.
That means JMU needs to take advantage of its limited ranked matchups. The opening weekend of the season is arguably more important for JMU than its entire conference season.
The Dukes should cruise through the CAA. Winning the first few games against ranked teams would mean more in terms of earning a potential seed than any CAA wins could. It’s weird, but JMU’s first few games will hold tremendous value when May rolls around.
The bottom line
JMU has won 45 games or more in six consecutive seasons. With the lineup the Dukes own, expect at least 45 wins this season when including the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament. If the pitching staff can find consistent No. 2 and No. 3 options, the Dukes could earn the fourth 50-win season in program history.
A Super Regional is within reach, and the College World Series remains the dream of the program.
Set the floor at a Regional appearance. Set the ceiling at making the College World Series. Regardless of how the season ends, it’s going to be a joy to watch.