The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

James Madison softball’s storybook run ends, but not before it captured national attention

James Madison pitcher Odicci Alexander stands in the pitching circle as Oklahoma’s Jayda Coleman celebrates behind her after hitting a double. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

James Madison’s Odicci Alexander choked back tears as teammates and Coach Loren LaPorte huddled around the pitcher’s circle at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City to comfort the senior starter largely responsible for the Dukes’ improbable run at the Women’s College World Series.

Moments earlier, Alexander had surrendered a pair of two-run doubles in the fifth inning of an eventual 7-1 loss to top-seeded Oklahoma that ended James Madison’s storybook season, in which it became the first unseeded program in Women’s College World Series history to reach the national semifinals.

Now LaPorte had the agonizing task of removing the Dukes’ ace from the final start of her remarkable career.

“I’m not going to lie,” LaPorte said. “I was trying to keep it together.”

Jenkins: The NCAA sold out women’s sports in a rights deal it fights to keep secret

Alexander had done all in her power, including throwing 1,057 pitches in the NCAA tournament, to get the Dukes (41-4) within one victory of the championship round before the Sooners’ lineup filled with all-Americans proved too robust in Monday’s elimination game.

Fans gave Alexander a standing ovation as she made her way to the dugout. There were more tears as Alexander hugged teammates near the tunnel. Others patted her on the shoulder as the applause continued for the player who had brought the Dukes unprecedented national acclaim.

“Game recognizes game,” Sooners pitcher Giselle Juarez said of Alexander. “I have mad respect for her. She gave everything she had, and I think it’s really awesome that they did give her that standing ovation. She earned it. She deserves it. She’s worked hard. She’s a competitor. She did great this year.”

Juarez, however, was the superior pitcher on this day, allowing only a leadoff homer to Kate Gordon on the first pitch of the game while tossing a four-hitter with 11 strikeouts.

The Sooners (54-3) went ahead to stay with two runs in the fourth and put any doubts about the outcome to rest with a four-run fifth that chased Alexander, who permitted six earned runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts over 4⅔ innings.

Mackenzie Donihoo and Jayda Coleman drove in two runs apiece for Oklahoma, which plays Florida State in the three-game championship round beginning Tuesday.

“It was amazing,” Alexander said of the ovation. “It’s more than just a game. To see them clapping for me and cheering me on, I mean, it was a great moment, and it warmed my heart.”

It also was another indication of the engaging story line James Madison provided by getting this far.

Brewer: In recovering Minnesota, a new men’s basketball coach offers a vision of change

The Dukes had pushed the favorite to win the national championship to a Game 3 by staging an upset for the ages in the World Series opener, winning, 4-3, in eight innings Thursday behind Alexander’s six-hitter. She struck out nine in that one, including the 700th of her career, facing a historically potent Sooners lineup featuring the national player of the year, Jocelyn Alo, and the national freshman of the year, Tiare Jennings.

One game later, against No. 5 Oklahoma State on Friday, Alexander provided perhaps the most memorable moment of this Women’s College World Series with a scintillating play at home plate to preserve a 2-1 win that sent the Dukes to the national semifinals.

“The play she made will be forever in our minds,” said Sooners Coach Patty Gasso, who credited Alexander and James Madison with attracting thousands of additional fans to the sport.

The Cowgirls had runners on second and third with one out in the top of the seventh and James Madison ahead by a run when a bunt came dribbling toward Alexander. In an instant, Alexander decided to try to make the tag herself rather than throw to catcher Lauren Bernett.

Alexander dived toward the plate and tagged out Scotland David in a play LaPorte called the best she has witnessed in her career, given the stakes. Alexander got the next hitter to pop up to end the game, triggering a wild celebration on the field.

“Just being here, I honestly have no words,” Alexander said. “To people who are watching, I mean, I hope I inspired you to be the best version of yourself.”

James Madison lost its next game to the Sooners, 6-3, with Alexander (18-3) yielding seven hits, including two homers, in a complete game. The result forced the rubber match, which was supposed to take place Sunday night until weather forced it to be moved to Monday.

Alexander coasted through the first three innings Monday before a four-pitch walk in the fourth ended in a wild pitch that brought home the tying run from third base. Jana Johns then followed with the go-ahead RBI single with two outs before Alexander got out of the inning.

The postgame meeting in the clubhouse was emotional, James Madison players said, with LaPorte telling the team it would be remembered forever as one of the greatest stories in the annals of James Madison sports.

“Anywhere we go, we’d get fans from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Georgia, Florida,” Alexander said. “Just to see the impact that we had on people around the country, it’s amazing.”

Read more on College Sports:

Navy denies Cameron Kinley’s application to delay his service and play in the NFL

Of all Mike Krzyzewski’s former players, Jon Scheyer is the chosen one at Duke

Svrluga: Coach K was bigger than Duke, and replacing him is a nearly impossible task