No unseeded team had ever won their first two games of the College World Series. James Madison, however, did not look like an unseeded team.
JMU beat Oklahoma State, 2-1, on the warm, cloudless Friday night at the WCWS in Oklahoma City.
For the two teams that earned the right to play each other after emerging on the good side of fierce one-run games, it was only fitting that the matchup was ripe with drama and tension.
OSU star pitcher Carrie Eberle traded blows with JMU ace Odicci Alexander, but it was the Dukes’ hurler who emerged in a better state after both pitched their second game in as many days.
For all that can be said about how Alexander shut the powerful offensive lineup of No. 5 OSU down, holding the Cowgirls to a single run and the first five batters in the OSU lineup hitless, it was a dive that she made, not a pitch, which won the day.
In the top of the seventh inning, with OSU having the game-tying run at third in the form of freshman speedster Scotland David, senior left fielder Chelsea Alexander squared around to bunt.
David got into prime scoring position through stealing second base after pinch running. She was caught in a rundown when the next batter up, Reagan Wright, hit a comebacker to Odicci Alexander.
David scampered between second and third base for three or four throws before making one more switchback and running towards third. Right before she was tagged out, David was contacted by the JMU shortstop.
The hip check was ruled obstruction, and it put two OSU runners in scoring position with no outs.
Chelsea Alexander, one of the best bunters on the team, came to the plate with a critical runner on third and less than two outs. Prime squeeze play territory.
The bunt attempt was expected, but what happened next was not. Alexander laid down a decent bunt, and the ball’s movement fizzled out in between the mound and home plate.
Odicci Alexander pounced on the ball and did the exact same thing as David – dive toward home plate. The pitcher did not hesitate and got there a little quicker, tagging out the tying run inches away from her destination.
“(Odicci Alexander) is a crazy athlete,” coach Kenny Gajewski said. “Just credit her for doing what athletes do. Doing what big-time players do. They just make plays.”
The play at third might not have been as climactic if Chelsea Alexander placed the bunt in a better spot, and if David did not hesitate.
“We screwed it up,” Gajewski said. “That’s the bottom line. She just made us pay. We hesitated at third, there was no need to hesitate, it was a safety squeeze and it’s lesson learned.”
The Cowgirls squandered their chance in the final frame, failing to capitalize on their scoring chances by recording two pop outs in between the dramatic play at the plate.
“We had an opportunity and we let it go away,” Gajewski said. “We just didn’t quite execute the way we have been accustomed to, and you got to credit them.”
Even with the solid pitching from senior starter Carrie Eberle, and excellent, strikeout-inducing relief provided by sophomore Kelly Maxwell, it would not be enough to keep No. 5 OSU making a trip to the dreaded loser’s bracket.
“Our pitching has been strong for us all year long,” Gajewski said. “Give up two runs, only one earned run, most of the time you’re going to come up on right side of this. We didn’t do that here today.”
JMU scratched across a run in the first to hand the Cowgirls their first deficit of the tournament and added what would turn out to be the game-winning run on a home run from senior Kate Gordon in the third.
The unseeded Dukes continue their remarkable run and became the first unseeded team to win its first two WCWS games. The Cowgirls will play Saturday night.
“We play with a chip on our shoulder and so does JMU,” Chelsea Alexander said. “I think you saw that tonight. They’re hot, so we just got to wipe that game out of our mind and come back fighting. We’re really good or we wouldn’t be here. So as long as we play our game, I think we’ll be all right.”