OKLAHOMA CITY — James Madison University's softball team looked like a Women's College World Series regular Thursday.
This is actually the Dukes' first trip, and they made their debut performance memorable. Kate Gordon hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the eighth inning at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, and Odicci Alexander threw a complete game as JMU stunned top-seeded Oklahoma 4-3 in eight innings in the 2021 WCWS opener.
The Dukes (40-2) got the win against a program that won national titles in 2000, '13, '16 and '17 and was the runner-up in '12 and '19, the most recent year the eight-team event was held. In front of an amped-up crowd at a newly expanded venue just 25 miles from Oklahoma's campus, the Dukes and their small group of energetic supporters looked right at home.
"I think with the mindset of just another game, we haven't looked past anybody," Gordon said. "We prepared. We had fun. In our pregame (routine), we were enjoying it. We're soaking in the fans, soaking in this atmosphere and this experience."
The Dukes, the Colonial Athletic Association champions who have been on the road throughout this NCAA tournament as an unseeded team, believe the win matters to more than just them.
"I think these players, they're playing for each other, but they're playing for a lot more," James Madison coach Loren LaPorte said. "We're playing for all the smaller schools out there that work just as hard."
Alexander controlled the action. The second-team All-American threw 129 pitches and struck out nine Sooners. She faced the top of Oklahoma's order in the eighth and escaped without allowing a run.
The Dukes move on to a Friday matchup against fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (48-10), which held off unseeded Georgia in Thursday's second game. Oklahoma (50-3) will face Georgia (34-22) in an elimination matchup Saturday that's also a rematch from the regular season; the Sooners won their first 33 games this year before losing in Athens.
The Sooners, who led the nation in homers this season by a wide margin, never figured out the movement or the speed of Alexander's pitches.
"I think at the plate some of our plans got lost," Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. "You can see that by the way we were swinging. So we need to figure out why."
Oklahoma pitcher Shannon Saile gave up three hits and struck out nine batters in a complete game.
Gordon's blast in the eighth just cleared the fence in left-center field. In the bottom of the inning, Oklahoma's Jocelyn Alo — USA Softball's college player of the year — walked with one out but was stranded at first.
Alabama 5, Arizona 1
Montana Fouts struck out 16 batters and allowed two hits as the third-seeded Crimson Tide beat 11th-seeded Arizona to move within two victories of the best-of-three title series that starts Monday. Fouts threw 103 pitches, including 73 strikes, and the first-team All-American lost her shutout only when Jessie Harper hit a solo homer with two outs in the seventh.
It was the 19th straight win for Alabama (51-7), which hasn't lost since April 17 and will next face No. 2 UCLA. Arizona (41-14) will play 10th-seeded Florida State in an elimination game Saturday.
Alabama opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning when Jenna Johnson singled and Bailey Hemphill scored on a fielding error. Hemphill hit a solo homer in the third — the 13th this season for the program's career leader in home runs — and in the sixth, Maddie Morgan had an RBI double and Abby Doerr hit a two-run homer.
Oklahoma State 3, Georgia 2
Chyenne Factor hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and Carrie Eberle gave up one earned run as she scattered seven hits, struck out two batters and walked one in a complete game for the Cowgirls, who saw plenty of orange in the stands while playing about 60 miles from campus.
With Oklahoma State up 2-0, Georgia's Sara Mosley singled and Sydney Kuma barely beat a throw to the plate to make it a one-run game in the top of the sixth. Alysen Febrey, a first-team All-American who transferred from Georgia after the 2019 season, singled in the bottom of the inning to score Kylie Naomi.
Ellie Armistead added an RBI double in the seventh for Georgia, which will probably feel like a road team again Saturday against Oklahoma.
"They can bring as many fans as they want out there," said Kuma, a second baseman. "I still think we're going to pull together and we're going to fight."
UCLA 4, Florida State 0
Rachel Garcia threw a five-hitter and struck out 11 batters as UCLA won its WCWS opener. A U.S. Olympian and a two-time USA Softball college player of the year, she threw 80 of her 112 pitches for strikes.
Maya Brady hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to provide insurance runs for the Bruins (47-5).
Florida State pitcher Kathryn Sandercock allowed one run through five innings before getting into trouble in the sixth. Danielle Watson replaced her, and Brady — the first batter Watson faced — hit one over the fence in center field.
The game matched the past two national champions. Florida State (44-11-1) won in 2018 and UCLA in 2019.
In the fifth, UCLA's Kinsley Washington singled and advanced to second on a throwing error. Anna Vines singled and knocked Washington in for the game's first run. In the sixth, Delanie Wisz had an RBI double before Brady homered.