Blum's Banter: Mizzou softball won't question the legitimacy of James Madison in NCAA Tournament
Something's got to give this weekend.
Either James Madison softball will lose more games in the 48-hour window of Columbia's super regional than it has all year, or it advances to the Women's College World Series.
One week after Missouri gave up only two combined hits and zero runs in the regional round, its season will either come to a screeching halt at the hands of the best mid-major team in the country, or the Tigers will advance to Oklahoma City for the first time in a decade.
Both MU and the Dukes are rolling into this super-regional showdown. JMU has won 26 straight games, including three consecutive wins over No. 9 overall Tennessee and 43-win Liberty to come out of the Knoxville regional unscathed.
Yet, James Madison won't be favored by many to keep playing past this weekend. That's partially due to Missouri's strength. No team this season has been able to consistently shut down the Tigers' offense.
The Dukes won't be exempt, even with ace Odicci Alexander in the circle, who will likely be James Madison's pitcher for most of the weekend.
There's no pretending that Missouri's route to Oklahoma City, only two wins away, is an easy one. While some may doubt JMU's legitimacy for another upset, Tigers' head coach Larissa Anderson isn't one of them.
I'm not sure if there's another coach preparing for a super regional that knows more about the Dukes, aside from JMU skipper Loren LaPorte, than Anderson.
Anderson celebrates her three-year anniversary as Missouri's head softball coach on Wednesday. She came to Columbia after 17 years as a coach at Hofstra, a Colonial Athletic Association rival of James Madison.
In the Pride's four years with Anderson as the head coach, they went 5-11 against the Dukes.
No other CAA team comes close to besting Hofstra that many times from 2015-18. For example, the Pride had a record of 8-4 against my alma mater, Colonial contender Towson, during that stretch.
What Anderson has accomplished in three years in Columbia is nothing short of fantastic. She'd be the first to give credit elsewhere, but the head coach of any program is responsible for everything.
Taking over a once-storied program in disarray, navigating a global health pandemic and dealing with NCAA violations for past academic fraud — which no player Anderson coached at MU was involved in — hasn't stopped the Tigers' return to national prominence.
And to grace the grandest stage in college softball, it's truly a full circle experience for Anderson, as a blast from her past now becomes Missouri's lone roadblock to Oklahoma City.
"I know James Madison really well, played a lot of championships with them, have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and what they've done there," Anderson said on Sunday. "As soon as the bracket went up, and I saw that James Madison was in the bracket that we'd be playing for super regionals. I was like 'Of course.'
"Two of my assistant coaches played at Hofstra or came from Hofstra, and then we have some players on our team like Kim Wert. It was like 'Of course, we're going to see James Madison super regionals.' The softball gods always have that figured out."
This will be Missouri's first time hosting super regionals since Mizzou Softball Stadium opened, and overall since 2013, when the Tigers played across campus at University Field.
It'll be the first time MU plays in the super-regional round since 2016, the last year at University Field and the penultimate season of former head coach Ehren Earleywine.
James Madison took part in the most recent super-regional showdowns in 2019. The Dukes defeated then-No. 15 Michigan twice in the same day in Ann Arbor to advance.
Eventual champions UCLA bested the Dukes in consecutive super-regional games. Yes, that same Bruins team that Missouri handed their only 2019 postseason loss to a week earlier.
This weekend will be far from James Madison's first rodeo. Since 2013, the Dukes are a combined 381-87, a .814-win percentage.
There'll be claims JMU hasn't played anyone or their record against high-level teams isn't near as appealing. Those shouts won't be coming from Anderson or the Tigers.
She knows more what it's like to be the little engine that could, such as James Madison, than to be in the limelight that comes along with leading a successful Missouri team.
Anderson also comprehends that with her gains in recruiting and player development over the last three years, MU is a juggernaut James Madison doesn't see often.
James Madison isn't just carrying the flag for itself, Harrisonburg, Virginia or the CAA. It's to prove that Davids can beat a Goliath in college softball. That's the same fight Anderson fought plenty of times.
Now she's on the other side and her immediate success in Columbia has brought levity that great players and coaches exist at the lower levels of Division I.
Those previous battles won't matter come this weekend. All that matters to Anderson now is beating an old rival turned current foe more times than the Tigers lose.
Something's got to give this weekend.
Contact Eric Blum at email@example.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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