Kate Gordon, Odicci Alexander, Madison Naujokas, Sara Jubas, Lynsey Meeks, Logan Newton and Michelle Sullivan.
All vital pieces to JMU’s WCWS run, most of whom have played their last game in a JMU uniform.
While the loss to No. 1 Oklahoma is still fresh and the achievements of this senior class can’t be overlooked. It’s also important to note the accomplishments of the underclassman, what fans have to look forward to and who will be leading the Dukes from here on out.
“I think the underclassmen realize what it takes to get here by being under these seniors' wings,” JMU head coach Loren LaPorte said in the postgame press conference. “When we start recruiting, we're looking for those players not that are just talented but are great people.”
The first position to look at is the pitcher. Alexander made history in more ways than one in the postseason run and pitched nearly every inning, with about 64 innings and 1,057 pitches. She became the darling of college softball.
In the fifth inning, LaPorte pulled Alexander in favor of freshman pitcher Alissa Humphrey. Humphrey is the future of JMU softball, and her stats prove it.
The freshman posted 140 strikeouts in 14 starts and a 1.51 ERA. Humphrey and redshirt junior pitcher Alexis Bermudez filled in for Alexander when she had a midseason injury, and the Gainesville native found her stride as she picked up four no-hitters on the year as well.
Humphrey was named CAA Rookie of the Year as well as first-team All-CAA and All-Rookie and earned an invitation to the USA Softball U-18 Junior Women National Team Trials, taking place June 22-25.
JMU is going to look to use Humphrey next season in a heightened role, as she’ll lead a team of new defense in 2022.
“All season, the [pitchers] have just been so locked in,” LaPorte said. “They are prepared when they step onto the mound, they have a lot of grit and they’re confident.”
Also in the field, two key players that should see bigger roles are redshirt sophomore infielder Hannah Shifflett and redshirt freshman catcher/infielder Emily Phillips.
Shifflett is the only returning fielder besides freshman catcher Lauren Bernett and should see increased hitting and fielding time. The North Garden, Virginia, native batted in 23 games in 2021 for a .227 average and 10 hits. Shifflett posted four home runs as well, though she didn’t see time in the batter’s box in the NCAA tournament. With most of the batting order gone, Shifflett will need to make a big jump, as her hitting will most likely be relied on more.
Shifflett acted as the first baseman throughout the NCAA tournament and had 161 catches for 156 outs on the season. Bernett is behind the plate, so the Dukes will rely on Shifflett in the outfield for leadership as she heads into her redshirt junior season.
Phillips is someone the Dukes tested the waters with in 2021 and who benefited from seeing top competition in the NCAA tournament. Serving as mainly a pinch hitter in the postseason run, Phillips came up with timely hits in the Regionals and Super Regionals, starting sparks of hitting that resulted in Dukes’ runs on the board.
Phillips should also appear in the field more with the graduating class moving on. In her freshman stint before the shutdown of the season, Phillips started at catcher for all 19 games and had seven hits and two home runs. Since the arrival of Bernett, Phillips’s time in the field has dwindled, but she has promise heading into next spring.
“I believe in life, you can either dwell on something that’s not there or you can keep on going through adversity,” Phillips said to the Virginian-Pilot. “I believe what I’ve learned this year is that whatever my role is going to be, I’m going to contribute to it.”
At the plate, along with Shifflet and Phillips, is redshirt sophomore infielder Hallie Hall. Hall didn’t see field time in 2021,but the Illinois native made the batting order consistently throughout the season, including the postseason run.
With 16 hits and 15 runs on the year, Hall had a .216 batting average on the season and needs to be an important piece in the lineup next year. While sometimes pulled in favor of a pinch hitter, Hall has lots of promise from her long at-bats and contact with the ball. Next season, look for Hall’s production to increase and crack the top half of the lineup.
This leaves the possible MVP of next season — Bernett. Bernett was in both the starting lineup on the field and at the plate this season as the only freshman in both roles. The catcher caught for both Alexander and Humphrey throughout the season, knew how to manage both pitchers and knew how to handle their wild pitches.
“[Bernett] is so composed,” LaPorte said. “She makes the pitchers really feel at ease — she’s able to connect with each [pitcher] so well. As a catcher, it’s tough to do it all.”
While she still has much to learn, Bernett shows promise at catcher with both her softball IQ and strength. She can see all points in the field to best calculate where to throw the ball, and her arm strength gets it there quickly and efficiently. Heading into her sophomore year next season, Bernett has time to grow and develop into one of JMU’s best two-way players.
Bernett will also make her name known at-bat. The freshman sat in the eighth spot during the 2021 season and, while not the most productive player in the lineup, came up with big hits at timely moments that gave the Dukes momentum when they needed it most. With the majority of this year’s batting order gone, Bernett will need to step up and take a leadership role, and look for her to be near the top of the order.
“I just tell myself to relax at the plate,” Bernett said. “My main thought at the plate is just to attack and try to focus on getting a hit.”
Although JMU softball’s senior class this year is the most important one there’s ever been, there’s a strong foundation behind the outgoing Dukes that’ll carry the team for years to come. Next year, JMU softball will be on the younger side, rather than the older but now all the underclassmen have the experience of making a deep postseason run and know what it takes to carry the team for years to come.
“We're going to be bringing in a lot of freshmen, and they know what to expect,” LaPorte said. “We've talked to them a lot about what we want. Oklahoma City has always been a dream, but now we've been here, and now it's back to work.”
Contact Savannah Reger at email@example.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.