James Madison’s Odicci Alexander is breakout star at WCWS

OKLAHOMA CITY — Back in her high school days, James Madison’s Odicci Alexander wasn’t sure she was good enough to play college softball.

Now, it’s clear she belongs on the big stage. The 5-foot-7 senior opened her first Women’s College World Series appearance by helping the unseeded Dukes beat top seed Oklahoma on Thursday. She followed that by leading her team past No. 5 seed Oklahoma State the next day. She threw complete game victories in both games.

While she’s in the circle, she’s the embodiment of swagger. When she has time to reflect, she is filled with humility.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I would have never thought. Honestly, I have no words. Most of this is like unreal. It still hasn’t really hit me yet that we’re actually here and we actually beat two of the top teams.”

Alexander is the main reason James Madison needs just one victory Sunday to reach the best-of-three championship series. All this from someone who loved softball growing up but didn’t initially plan to play in college.

“I would watch the Women’s College World Series,” she said. “I never thought I would be that good. Just to be here is a blessing.”

Eventually, she got the physical, mental and spiritual growth to match her athletic gifts and the exceptional speed and movement on her pitches.

“Her mentality and her growth and her maturity is what’s getting it done,” James Madison coach Loren LaPorte said after the win over Oklahoma State. “She’s always had the physical part of things, but where her mindset is right now — it’s unbelievable”

Those tools have made her calm under pressure, and it helps her teammates.

“Looking over to my left and seeing her composed, seeing her relaxed, cool, calm, and collected really helps,” James Madison third baseman Lynsey Meeks said. “It gives you confidence. It gives you, you know she’s giving you her best, so you want to go out, make plays, and do your best for her. It definitely slows the heart rate and helps you make big plays.”

Alexander has been good for years, but she’s taken it up a notch this season. She was named a second-team NFCA All-American this season and has been at her best at the World Series.

In her defining play in Oklahoma City so far, James Madison led Oklahoma State 2-1 in the seventh inning with a runner on third and one out. Alexander charged a bunt, picked it up and delivered a leaping tag on the runner coming home for the second out.

“That’s probably the best play I’ve ever seen in a career by a pitcher in that situation with that much pressure,” LaPorte said.

Now, Alexander is getting texts and direct messages from people she idolized growing up. Even Cat Osterman, the Olympic pitcher, reached out to her.

“That was awesome,” she said.

Alexander could have stopped playing after last season, but she chose to return for the extra senior season the NCAA allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the season began, the World Series was in the back of her mind. As the wins started piling up, it became a more realistic goal. Then the Dukes won their regional at Tennessee and their super regional at Missouri.

Now, she knows she and her team belong.

“As a team, staying within ourselves, doing what we had to do on that field — we deserve to be here.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.