JMU softball is off to a strong start in 2019 with a 17-5 record and three wins against nationally ranked opponents. Despite several changes to its personnel and rotation from last year’s squad — most noticeably in the infield — the Dukes have continued to excel.
After third baseman Morgan Tolle graduated and junior first baseman Kierstin Roadcap moved to catcher, JMU saw changes to both corners of its infield. What didn’t change, however, was the prolific combination of the Dukes’ sophomore shortstop Sara Jubas and junior second baseman Madison Naujokas. The two form a strong defensive duo for the Dukes and have been essential to JMU’s early success on defense.
“They’re our best defensive players,” head coach Loren LaPorte said. “Playing shortstop and playing second base is not just about reaction … In the middle, you’re involved in almost every single play. They’re probably the two most athletic, and being that I really wanted a middle infield that played together for a long period of time, I wouldn’t move those two because of the relationship they have.”
Naujokas and Jubas have been the heart of the infield since Jubas became starting shortstop last year — a role she fit into quickly.
“It didn’t take very long at all,” Jubas said. “When I first came here, she was my throwing partner. She helped me out a whole lot and made things a lot easier for me, getting to know the program and getting to know what we do on a daily basis.”
Jubas has played well on both sides of the field since joining the Dukes, continuously improving her game. After hitting .302 her freshman year with a .921 fielding percentage, the sophomore has upped both her batting average to .520 — first in Division I — and her fielding percentage to .950.
Last season, Naujokas batted .206 with four home runs and 13 RBIs with a .944 fielding percentage. In 2019, Naujokas is batting .345 with two home runs and 14 RBIs with a fielding percentage of .915. The duo has committed only seven errors combined this season — a testament to their strong connection.
“We’ve been really close ever since she came in freshman year and had to take over that shortstop role,” Naujokas said. “She’s doing a great job over there. Our communication, we don’t even always have to do it to their strength. We always know what each other is thinking or where we want to put the ball. It’s really nice having her as our shortstop.”
Both benefit from the pairing and take lessons from the other. Naujokas said that Jubas brings a positive attitude and is a hard worker —something the rest of the locker room admires.
Having two consistent faces has aided the Dukes in building the infield’s chemistry with a new first and third basemen. Naujokas acknowledged that it can take time to create a lineup that can communicate effectively, but both her and Jubas help with the process.
“I think as the season goes on, we’re going to figure that out,” Naujokas said. “That’s going to be a big part of our success, is when we can get to a lineup that we want to keep, a lineup that communicates really well and understands each other and what each of us bring to the table. Jubas and I have been at the position for a while, so I think us helping them and communicating with them is what we need and what they need.”
Both players have different leadership qualities that benefit the team. Jubas leads by example while Naujokas is a more vocal leader.
LaPorte acknowledges that the difference of personality between the two is on full display during practices and when they’re off the field.
“Jubas is actually like an under-the-radar jokester,” LaPorte said. “You wouldn’t really think that talking to her because she’s pretty shy and doesn’t like to say a whole lot but when you really get to know [Jubas] she kind of jokes around and she likes to pick. She kinda has a sarcasm humor to her and [Naujokas] knows that now, so she’ll kinda dig. It’s almost like they’re sisters.”
As the season goes on, Naujokas and Jubas’ chemistry will continue to improve. Both players have another season together — something the team will benefit from.
“I think now that Jubas has one year under her belt and now that Naujokas is an upperclassman, I think when you can combine vocal leadership and leadership by example and have that going up the middle, you got some strength there,” LaPorte said. “On the flip side to that, offensively, both of them have [stepped] up in big-time situations.”
Contact Jason Clampitt at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more softball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.