Oklahoma beats James Madison in NCAA semifinals, advances to WCWS championship series

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James Madison’s Odicci Alexander walked off the field to a standing ovation.

Oklahoma left with the win.

It wasn’t so much that midnight struck on Cinderella, exposing an overmatched team.

Instead, it was the Sooners rising up to the occasion, beating the Dukes 7-1 in the Women’s College World Series on Monday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

Oklahoma will take on the winner of Monday’s second game between Alabama and Florida State in the best-of-three final, which begins Tuesday night.

Alexander was the sensation of the tournament, but the Sooners’ offense — dormant early in the game — finally came to life.

And Giselle Juarez, Oklahoma’s one-time ace who entered the tournament down the rung on the Sooners’ pitching ladder, continued her remarkable WCWS run.

After Oklahoma dropped its opener, 4-3, to the Dukes, it was apparent that Juarez would need to be relied on heavily if the Sooners were to bounce back and make the championship series.

Oklahoma celebrates after defeating James Madison in the NCAA Women's College World Series semifinals.
Oklahoma celebrates after defeating James Madison in the NCAA Women's College World Series semifinals.

Juarez — who didn’t appear at all in either the Super Regional or the Norman Regional final — kept OU alive with a pair of wins Saturday.

She got off to an inauspicious start, as Kate Gordon took Juarez’s first pitch of the day over the left-field wall to give the Dukes the lead.

But after a two-out single in the first, Juarez retired the next 14 hitters with no James Madison hitters reaching base again until Gordon’s one-out single in the sixth.

Juarez went the distance, allowing four hits and striking out 11 with one walk.

But for a while, it looked like Gordon’s home run might be enough as Alexander once again kept the Sooners’ hitters off balance and guessing.

Oklahoma didn’t have a hit through three innings, finally breaking through on Nicole Mendes’ triple to start the fourth, then running home to tie it on a wild pitch.

That got the Sooners’ offense going.

Oklahoma took the lead later in the fourth on Jana Johns’ RBI single.

Then things really got rolling in the fifth, as Mackenzie Donihoo kept up her hot WCWS had with a two-out, two-run double before another two-run double by Jayda Coleman two batters later.

After Alexander hit Johns with a pitch, the Dukes went to their bullpen for the first time in the tournament. Alexander had gone the distance in wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to make James Madison the first unseeded team to win its first two WCWS games, then threw a complete game again in Sunday’s 6-3 Sooners win that forced Monday’s deciding game.

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When Dukes coach Loren LaPorte went out to the circle to make the pitching change, Alexander lingered on the field, composing herself before walking off to a thundering ovation — from not only the James Madison contingent but virtually everyone else in the stadium.

Then the Sooners kept it going, moving to the brink of a run rule with Jocelyn Alo’s towering solo homer in the seventh that was followed by a pair of singles to put the game-ending run on base.

Oklahoma didn’t end it there, but Juarez did in the seventh, getting Lauren Bernett to meekly bounce Juarez’s offering right back at the pitcher, who threw to first to end the game.

The Sooners (54-3) are in the championship series for the sixth time since the best-of-three final was implemented.

Oklahoma has won three times during that era — 2013, 2016 and 2017. In 2012, the Sooners fell to Alabama in three games and in 2019, UCLA swept OU.

The Dukes’ season ends at 41-4.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: NCAA softball: Oklahoma tops James Madison in WCWS semifinals