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Lancers drop two to #24 JMU

Despite another gem from reigning Big South Pitcher of the Week Sydney Backstrom, No. 24 James Madison showcased its top-25 prowess and rode a pair of dominant starts from Alissa Humphrey and Odicci Alexander to sweep a doubleheader against Longwood, 1-0 and 6-0, Wednesday at Lancer Field.

One of the nation’s most formidable pitching duos, Humphrey (10-0) and Alexander (5-0) both remained unbeaten and sent the Dukes (24-1) to their first two wins as a ranked program this season after finally breaking into the NFCA/USA Today Coaches Poll Tuesday.

Humphrey and Alexander, both under the tutelage of former Longwood pitcher and current James Madison pitching coach Libby Morris, entered the day ranked as the top two pitchers in the Colonial Athletic Association in ERA and opponent batting average, and among the nation’s top 30 in strikeouts per seven innings. Both put their power arms to use, recording 15 strikeouts apiece and holding Longwood (21-23) to just two hits to extend James Madison’s winning streak to 14 games.

In the opener, however, Humphrey found an equal in Backstrom (16-10), who went toe-to-toe with the freshman phenom in a 1-0 pitcher’s duel that featured a combined 24 strikeouts and just six hits allowed by the dueling aces. Backstrom, who four days ago threw the first perfect game in Longwood softball’s Division I era, matched Humphrey’s strikeout-heavy approach with nine punchouts of her own, doing so against a James Madison offense that ranks among the nation’s top five in scoring, walks and home runs per game.

However, the lone blemish on Backstrom’s day – a two-out RBI single from leadoff batter Kate Gordon in the top of the fifth – proved to be all the run support Humphrey needed, as the Dukes held on to win despite managing the fewest runs and hits they have in a single game all season.

But while Humphrey and Backstrom provided each other little room for error in one of the most well-pitched games of the 2020 college softball season, Alexander was in a league of her own in game two. The two-way standout and two-time NFCA All-American was nearly untouchable, racking up 15 strikeouts in her seven innings of work. Only singles from Longwood first baseman Madison Blair and center fielder Lauren Taylor stood in the way of what would have been James Madison’s third no-hitter of the season.

Longwood starter Leigha Hill and reliever Angelina Sherba kept James Madison’s bats in check, scattering eight hits and three leadoff solo homers, but with the senior Alexander locked in on the other side the Lancers put just three runners on base.

“This time of the season, it’s a really good check for us getting ready for postseason,” said Longwood head coach Dr. Megan Brown. “That’s the kind of team we’re going to see in the postseason, so it’s good to see where we are, what areas we need to improve in and grow in as a team.

“Our list is really clear for the rest of the week. We have Charleston Southern this weekend, and they’ll come out ready to roll so we’ll need to be at our best and continue to make adjustments for the last two weeks of the season going into the Big South tournament.”

The two-game set against the Dukes is the second-to-last non-conference series the Lancers will play this season and sends them into an eight-game stretch to end the regular season. Six of those games will be crucial Big South matchups, including a trip to Charleston Southern this Saturday and Sunday, and a season-ending showdown against fellow Big South frontrunner USC Upstate on May 8-9. In-between those three-game series will be the non-conference finale at North Carolina A&T on May 2 in Greensboro, North Carolina.