May 21 / Todd

Lacrosse is Final Four Bound!

A rare, big post-graduation JMU sports weekend did not disappoint. Three different teams had great success in their own ways this weekend, but obviously there is no bigger story than the JMU Lacrosse team clinching its second-ever (and first since 2000) trip to the Final Four with an 11-8 victory in the Elite 8 at home over Florida. With apologies to a football program of whom big things like a return to Frisco were already expected in the preseason, this is arguably the biggest story in JMU Athletics for the 2017-18 year. JMU will now be looking to spoil the party for more P5 squads (the ACC’s UNC and Boston College and the B1G’s Maryland) at Stony Brook on Long Island next weekend. Dukes players and fans wouldn’t want it any other way!

This weekend’s big win didn’t start out all that exciting, with both teams playing a tense, physical game for the first 15 minutes or so. The Gators actually scored the game’s first two goals and the Dukes struggled to generate their usual offensive fireworks early. Other players will get the headlines for gaudier stats in this one, but their wasn’t a bigger goal this year than super-sub freshman Charlotte Haggerty’s opener for the Dukes, which seemed to relieve the pressure on her more decorated teammates and deliver on some of Coach Shelley’s pre-season excitement about her tiny speedster. The Dukes steadied themselves late in the first to take a 4-3 lead to the break before breaking out with a 7-1 run in the middle of the second half to take command of the game and ultimately run out the clock the last 3 or 4 minutes. As always this season, JMU’s depth of firepower and talent eventually took over on a hot day. We’re no experts on this sport, but JMU’s biggest asset this year seems to be the sheer number of talented players capable of big things. As always, Kristen Gaudian and Elena Romesburg did their All-American things. But this game reminded us just how great players like Katie Kerrigan, Hayley Warden, and Hanna Haven really are. Kerrigan usually is happy to let others grab the headlines as she doles out assists, but her decision to take one herself in a key part of that run might’ve been this week’s true highlight. Warden just is so solid in every facet. Winning draws, leading the defense, and controlling the pace on offense all while running about 38 miles every game and still being the most physical player in the lineup. And finally Haven, who had one of her best games as a Duke. She’s seemingly never met a shot she didn’t like, but she did a fantastic job of staying with the gameplan, not forcing shots early when Florida’s defense was so tight, and then coming up with a couple stunning goals in the flow of the offense. And of course we’d be remiss not mentioning the stellar effort on defense (in particular the reliable Emma Johnson) and in net from Molly Dougherty. They were clutch in keeping the Dukes in the game when they were struggling to get on track early and hopefully that bodes well for next weekend.

The Dukes begin the Final Four with the weekend’s first game, at 5 p.m. Friday against North Carolina. JMU began its season at home with a thrilling 15-14 OT victory over the Heels and it’s hard to imagine at this point that this weekend’s game will be anything less. If the Dukes can repeat that feat, they’ll take on the Maryland/BC Winner for the National Championship on Sunday. JMU suffered its only loss of the season to the top-seeded Terps in College Park back in March 15-12 and did not play the Eagles this season. With the top four national seeds all making the F4, this should be an excellent showcase for the sport and a great weekend to be a Dukes fan.

Next, the JMU Softball team went to the Knoxville Regional, where they took Game 1 from Ohio before getting knocked off by the favored Tennessee Volunteers and then losing a rematch to Ohio to finish the season at 43-14. The loss to Ohio – who would ultimately lose to Tennessee in the final – was very a disappointing one for the Dukes who had taken a 2-0 lead in the top of the 5th before giving up six runs in the bottom of the frame and falling 7-3 in the end. But that game does not in any way tell the story of this squad.  That a team with only a few seniors and NO juniors that lost a National Player of the Year candidate in Megan Good to injury and their long-time head coach to Auburn way too late in the offseason for any rationale explanation managed to win 43 games, get an at-large bid without much bubble concern and win a game in the NCAA tourney speaks volumes to the talent, resiliency, and foundation that has been built in this proud program. By any measure, it would be hard to call this season anything other than a resounding success, but under those circumstances it seems certain. With Coach LaPorte seemingly having gained control of the program and belief from her players, with Megan Good (who was happily leading cheers all weekend in the dugout) back to relieve the pressure and keep Alexander and Buresch fresh next year after wearing down a bit this season given their huge workloads, and all of the youth in the program, next year could be one for the ages. Finally, congrats to the seniors, in particular Jessica Mrozek and Morgan Tolle, who have been such a key part to the best times in program history.

Lastly, we should mention the JMU baseball team. The Diamond Dukes continued their slow march towards respectability by finishing the season on a five-game winning streak, including sweeping a double-header from Towson on the season’s final day, to finish the season at .500 with a 26-26 mark. That’s the squad’s best record in seven seasons and hopefully a positive sign heading into the offseason that Coach Ikenberry is building a solid foundation for bigger things to come.

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  1. Ken / May 21 2018

    Don’t know the rules of, or understand, lacrosse so I can’t comment other than to say good luck on LI next weekend!

    As to softball, we will have to disagree as to calling the season a resounding success. I hit up B. Conlin on twitter with some observations, but have more room here to expand. Given some personal circumstances, I had lots of time to watch their games on-line beginning with CAA play.

    I think this team over-achieved more than anything else and got an at-large based on a combination of factors: last several years’ performance, late loss of HC, and loss of an AA/POY pitcher. What differences we see in next year’s team (no guarantee Good comes back at the same level she left) will tell me a lot about Coach Laporte.

    My biggest takeaway from this season is truly understanding how many flaws Megan Good covers up from the circle.

    The Dukes beat one ranked team (Cal) and was only 4-3 against tourney teams OOC. All 3 wins against Hofstra were struggles in the circle and they outpitched us in the CAA tourney.

    I quite frankly expected more out of Alexander after 100+ games into her career, even if she only started 17 times as a freshman. She demonstrated a remarkable inability to refocus and limit damage when things went sideways toward the end of the season. She gave up 29 HRs this season…because her pitch arsenal is hard, hard, and hard — she needs to add a change or at least figure out how to move her fastball. There were lots of extended ABs by hitters because they knew they didn’t have to protect against a change-up.

    Defensively this team was…challenged is the best way to describe it. I realize there were a couple of injuries to OFs, but there were fundamental issues that kids who have played SB as long as they have been playing should be able to make in their sleep. Probably their biggest issue was understanding the scout — who was on base and the speed of the batter-runner. They consistently failed to hit cut-offs, threw to bases when they had no opportunity to get a lead runner (giving up the xtra base to the trail runner), and had problems making routine outfield plays. In the Knoxville region alone, the LF dropped a foul pop because she had no clue where the fence was (the ball hit her glove on the edge of the warning track), failed to even get a glove on a foul ball that landed 10 feet behind her (!), let a ground ball singe get all the way to the wall because she didn’t even attempt to reach down to cut it off, and threw the ball into the 1B dugout just trying to throw it to 2B. The other corner OF is not fast enough to limit bases on balls in the gap or down the line. It was brutal to watch at times. I think Jubas was the best defensive player on the field; she seemed the most polished, even as a FR.

    The biggest change I think JMU needs to make for SB is a physical change. Rebuild the VMP support building so they school can expand the SB field to 220′ or 225′ in center field (if I had the $$ I would give it to the school to make it happen).

    Every host park for the regionals was >= 220′ to center (Oklahoma is 225′, I think). JMU built an offense on 210′ foot home runs where gap shots too often become outs or 1Bs (less ground for OFs to cover). The frustration was evident in Knoxville where 3-4 balls that would have been dingers in VMP were cans of corn. Tennessee on the other hand, when it wasn’t hitting the ball 240′, was putting the ball in play in the holes/gaps and running. The point is, they can do both — JMU, right now can’t consistently.

    I think the team has potential to be better, but not great beyond next year, without major strides forward in pitching (by players not named Good) and defense. MG is a generational player.

    I wonder how/where Coach LaPorte will be able to recruit. M. Dean’s ties to Chicago built a small pipeline to IL, but will that remain? Can she go south and find that elusive southern speed that SHSU speaks of (but doesn’t ever have) so frequently?

    SB is reaching the edge of its window; the talent gap between the P4 (B10 is not a SB power conference) and everybody else is SO great that JMU risks becoming the occasional nice spring time story too soon.

    As important as conference affiliation is for FB, it is everything in the non-marquee sports. It’s where JMU finds itself all too often these days. Why did all 13 softball playing SEC teams make the tournament (with 9 hosts)? Because they’re the SEC…18 of 32 at-large bids this season went to the SEC and PAC-12. The CAA and ACC had the same # of teams in the tournament — 2 each.

    All that said, Go Dukes — beat North Carolina at Cheater Hill!

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