College softball – Inside Odicci Alexander, James Madison’s Cinderella WCWS run

OKLAHOMA CITY – The purple-clad James Madison fans in the crowd began to fidget after Oklahoma State put the runners in second and third, with one leading in the seventh inning, with the Dukes taking a precarious lead with one run held.

They adjusted their hats or looked down at their feet. James Madison’s director of sport, Jeff Bourne, folded his hands behind his head and let out a heavy breath. The Dukes’ run through the Women’s College World Series felt unlikely, but also somehow determined – a Cinderella team for the nation, but one that Harrisonburg, Virginia knew, was built for that moment.

Because James Madison had in Odicci Alexander the epitome of the softball superstar, whose passion, heart, desire, work ethic and almost unbeatable promotion ball all worked for the Dukes. They have seen their growth over the past five years. They knew what to do. The rest of the nation is on the trail right now.

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When she stalled late against the cowgirls, there was only one option: whatever it takes. So she threw her pitch with one out and two runners in scoring position. Chelsea Alexander brought the ball straight back to her. The pressure was on. Scotland David came running home. At that moment, Odicci Alexander had a choice: play the game yourself on the plate or throw the ball at catcher Lauren Bernett.

Alexander found she didn’t have time to read it to Bernett. So she lunged forward and lunged at David.

Out.

Whatever it takes.

“If this isn’t Top 10 SportsCenter I don’t know what is because this is probably the best game I’ve ever seen in a career from a pitcher in this situation with so much pressure,” said James Madison coach Loren LaPorte.

The job wasn’t done. Alexander lay there for a few minutes and her teammates circled her, but she got up and went back into the circle to face the same situation again but with two outs.

“That was a fight,” said Alexander after the game. “I just made it so big. I didn’t give up then. I was just ready to get the third and be done and just win the ball game.”

In her two WCWS victories, Odicci Alexander has beaten 11 batter and given up only four runs in 15 innings. AP Photo / Sue Ogrocki

A 0-2 offer for leadoff hitter Kiley Naomi surfaced flat left and Sara Jubas recorded the final. As James Madison’s players celebrated their historic victory on the field and their biggest fans hugged and cheered in the stands, Bourne high-five everyone around him.

“Oh man,” he said, “how awesome is that!”

With a 2-1 win over Oklahoma State on Friday night, James Madison was the first non-ranked team in WCWS history to advance to the semifinals. If the Dukes’ opening win over number 1 overall Oklahoma stunned the college softball world, beating the Cowgirls felt a little more like proving they belong right where they are : in the winning class, one win away from the championship series.

“When they went to the CAA championship this year, you could see every game they got better at,” said an enthusiastic Bourne. “They built a sense of family and synergy. So I thought we were on our way. Well, I’m honest, I didn’t think we could get through as far as we did before, given all of the teams we are facing but they keep getting better and they keep fighting. And you have to love their spirit. It’s contagious. It really is. “

The ghost begins with Alexander, who grew up with her grandparents WD and Emily in a two-stop town in Palmer Springs, Virginia. The Alexander family have lived in this city for so long that a street is named after them – Alexander Ferry Road. A veteran of the Vietnam War, WD has accompanied Alexander throughout her youth and nurtured her love for softball. That’s all she ever wanted to do.

Odicci Alexander hit her great-uncle on the biggest stage in college softball when she was 9. Andrea Adelson

Since WD and Emily could not travel from Virginia to attend the WCWS, the extended Alexander family in Dallas and Kansas City decided to come in their place. WD’s brothers Cliff and Robert attended both games, as did seven other family members. “I’m so happy I could cry,” said Cliff Alexander.

Everyone was beaming and telling stories about Alexander and the journey that took them to James Madison.

“She always had a glove and a ball with her and wanted to play catch all the time,” recalls her great-uncle Robert Alexander. “So I knew she was going to do something in this game. I went through her house once and she is about 9 years old. And I always challenged them. And she deleted me. I couldn’t believe it was embarrassing. I went back the next day, she did it again. She said don’t try me anymore I said, ‘I won’t.’ “

The family laughed. But reaching James Madison wasn’t entirely safe either. Alexander was overlooked for much of her high school career until former coach Mickey Dean spotted her recruiting someone else. What made Alexander so special was not just her ability to pitch, but also her ability to hit.

After another outstanding season, Alexander won the Conference Pitcher of the Year award. Her record now stands at 18-1, with 1.22 ERA, 197 strikeouts and 15 full games, including her last three – the super regional clincher against Missouri and two WCWS games.

She’s not lazy on the record either, beating .329 with 25 hits and 12 RBIs. She kicked off the scoring against Oklahoma State in the first inning when she raced home from second and scored a goal on a throwing error.

“I went through her house once and she is about 9 years old. And I always challenged them. And she hit me. I couldn’t believe it. I was embarrassed. She said don’t try me anymore. I said, ‘I won’t.’ “Robert Alexander, Odicci Alexander’s great-uncle

The Dukes gained a versatile softball player when they signed Alexander, but more than that, their demeanor helped define this team and program.

James Madison wasn’t exactly preferred to come here. The dukes were sent to the streets for both the regional and the national rounds. With a 28-game winning streak against Missouri, James Madison lost the second game in the series after Alexander allowed six runs in the season in their only loss of the season.

But the all-out 7-2 win proved her strength when she turned around and threw a four-hitter – and went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

It’s not like the Oklahoma City draw has gotten any easier. James Madison faced the number 1 overall seeded Oklahoma, who played just 30 minutes from their Norman campus. With Oklahoma fans filling most of the stadium, Alexander walked into the circle and calmly delivered another stellar performance by keeping the best offensive team in the country down to a season low of three runs.

“She is one of the most incredible people I have ever met,” said Bourne. “Very, very talented of course, but talk about building spirit and courage and just people love being around them and they believe in them. And they convey that feeling of faith through every member of that team.”

Although she wasn’t as dominant on Friday as it was against Oklahoma, she did enough to get the job done, aided by some incredible defensive games behind her. James Madison quickly took a 2-0 lead, and then Oklahoma State scored in the fifth inning – which made the action in the seventh inning even more dramatic.

Alexander’s jumping game on the plate prevented a potentially devastating moment for the dukes. The only reason Oklahoma State initially had two runners was because of an obstacle call as the Dukes tried to mark David between second and third place.

This jam has shaped the game of the tournament to this day.

As LaPorte later said, “I think we’ve got to the point where why not? Why not us?”

This is a mantra that also applies to Alexander.

“I feel like she represents every little girl that comes from a small town. If you work hard and have a dream, you can do it,” said her cousin Joyce Holmes. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Because now she’s on ESPN, on the big screen, and is a role model for people who look like her. “

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