Odicci Alexander.jpg

Odicci Alexander gets a hit against Binghamton. 

After finishing the regular season, JMU won its sixth straight CAA regular season championship with a conference record of 20-1. The Dukes enter the CAA Tournament as the No.1 seed and have the home field advantage as they look to win their fifth conference tournament. JMU will host the winner of No. 4 Drexel and No. 5 College of Charleston on Wednesday.

The Dukes boast the best record in the conference and are 21-1 at home while riding a 16-game win streak. This season, JMU broke its single season record for RBIs (385) and runs (413) while also hitting 83 home runs. JMU led the CAA in batting average (.344), runs (413), home runs (83), RBIs (385), total bases (818) and slugging percentage (.601).

JMU enters the tournament as the favorite, sweeping its last six conference opponents and scoring 194 runs in conference play while only giving up 39 runs. Despite dominating conference play, the Dukes might not come out with a win at the CAA Tournament, as they fell to Hofstra in last season’s championship game. This year, all signs point to Drexel and Elon as posing the biggest threat to JMU celebrating a conference championship.

Elon (31-18-1, 13-7 CAA) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament and is the only team to defeat JMU in CAA play this season when they defeated the Dukes 5-3 on March 23 at Veterans Memorial Park. Elon scored 11 runs against JMU, the most of any team in the tournament.

Redshirt junior pitcher/outfielder Elise Walton pitched a complete game, allowing two runs and striking out three batters in the victory over JMU. Elon’s offense is led by freshman catcher/first baseman Megan White, who led the Phoenix in batting average (.337), home runs (9) and was tied with freshman infielder Lauren Clarke for RBIs (26). Elon ranked third in the conference in home runs (40) and fourth in RBIs (568).

The second team in the tournament that could give JMU trouble is Drexel. The Dragons ranked first in the CAA in hits (510) and second in the CAA in batting average (.326), home runs (64), RBIs (336) and total bases (803). Drexel is led by junior infielder Linda Rush and sophomore first baseman Kristi DiMeo. Rush hit .430 with 20 home runs and 72 RBIs, while DiMeo batted .407 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs. Both players drove in runs in the three-game series against JMU, and if both players hit and perform in key situations they could prevent JMU from winning its fifth conference tournament.

For JMU to win the CAA Tournament, its production from the regular season has to carry over into the tournament. While redshirt senior pitcher/infielder Megan Good, junior pitcher/infielder Odicci Alexander and junior utility Kate Gordon have accounted for 45 of the team’s 84 home runs this season, the Dukes have to rely on other players to help carry the load on offense if they want to finish the season as tournament champions.

Sophomore pitcher/outfielder Logan Newton is the only other Duke to have double-digit home runs this season, finishing with 10. Hitting behind Alexander and Good in the heart of the order, Newton has to drive in runs in the five hole. The Lakewood Ranch, Florida, native was named the CAA player of the week on May 5. She hit .778 with seven hits and two RBIs during the series against Delaware.

Defense wins championships, and sophomore infielder Sara Jubas is part of the defensive backbone of JMU’s infield along with junior infielder Madison Naujokas. Jubas batted .421 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs this season, hitting in twelve straight games at one point during the season. Along with Naujokas, Jubas is one of JMU’s best defensive players, compiling a .898 fielding percentage this season. Her defensive play is one of the reasons JMU has been successful all season long.

Sophomore pitcher/infielder Hannah File plays a vital role in JMU’s offense as the leadoff hitter. The leadoff hitter is important because they can set the momentum of the game with one at-bat. Ever since being moved into this position, File has produced with key at-bats that have swung the momentum in JMU’s favor. She batted .348 with six homers and 31 RBIs.

The last X-factor for JMU to be victorious in the tournament is sophomore pitcher Payton Buresch. While Alexander and Good started in the circle for the majority of the season, Buresch has been effective coming in relief and has been a vital part in the Dukes’ success in conference play. The Downers Grove, Illinois, native has pitched in relief this season and pitched four games in the circle, compiling a 6-1 record with 1.79 ERA with 27 strikeouts. Buresch allowed six runs on nineteen hits against conference rivals this season. In the series against Elon, she went 1-0 with a save in 10.2 innings, allowing five hits with two walks and nine strikeouts.

After failing to win the CAA Tournament last season, JMU looks to rewrite history and win its fifth CAA Tournament in program history. In order to do that, the entire team has to contribute to end the tournament as champions.

Contact Jason Clampitt at clampijt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more softball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.