Lauren Bernett, James Madison University softball star, dead at 20

Lauren Bernett, a standout catcher for the James Madison University softball team that reached the semifinals of the 2021 Women’s College World Series, died Monday, the university announced. She was 20.

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The university did not provide details about the sophomore’s death, The Washington Post reported. The university provided links to its counseling center and additional resources for those dealing with mental health issues in its news release, according to ESPN.

Update 3:13 p.m. EDT April 28: The death of James Madison University softball player Lauren Bennett was officially classified as a suicide, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office of the Western District of Virginia.

Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said Wednesday that Bernett’s death was being classified as an apparent suicide and his office was investigating her death, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Update 2:48 p.m. EDT April 27: Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said in a statement Wednesday that Bernett’s death is currently being classified as an apparent suicide, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

An official report from the medical examiner’s office is pending, Hutcheson said.

Original report: The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death, WHSV-TV reported. Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson provided no other information, according to the television station. Officials with the Harrisonburg Police Department in Virginia did not respond to a request for comment from the Post.

“Our hearts are aching, hearing the news of the loss of one of our student-athletes,” JMU President Jonathan Alger and Athletic Director Jeff Bourne said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “College athletics is great because of the people with whom we get to interact every day. We are a tight family. We are grateful that Lauren has been part of our JMU Athletics community and will always consider her to be a Duke. We will miss her dearly.”

The Dukes’ doubleheader against Longwood scheduled for Wednesday was canceled, the WHSV reported. The team is scheduled to return to action with a doubleheader on Saturday against Delaware, according to the Post.

Bernett, a biology major from McDonald, Pennsylvania, was a four-year letter winner at South Fayette High School and graduated in 2020, WPXI-TV reported. She was a key member of the 2021 Dukes’ squad that became the first unseeded program to reach the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series, the Post reported.

JMU pitcher Odicci Alexander, another star from the Dukes’ run at the Women’s College World Series, posted “Love you LB” on social media, adding in another tweet, “You really never know what someone is going through.”

Bernett was named the Colonial Athletic Association player of the week on Monday, the school announced in a news release. She went 7-for-9 with seven RBI, four runs scored and a .788 batting average against Drexel last weekend, including a home run.

Bernett was batting .336 with 33 RBI this year and started 36 of the Dukes’ 43 games, according to the school.

A coach with Bernett’s youth travel squad in Pennsylvania called her “a role model for kids in our organization.”

“Aside from being a great player, she was a fantastic person,” Team Pennsylvania Fastpitch President Richele Hall told the Post by telephone on Tuesday. “She was more than a ballplayer. She would do anything for anyone.”

Kara Sroka, who also coached on the travel squad, told the newspaper in an email that Bernett was “humble, yet fierce between the lines, and the teammate you love to have.”

JMU relief pitcher Alissa Humphrey tweeted, “Mental health matters.”

“Sometimes those who are struggling the most, hide it the best,” Humphrey wrote. “Check in on your people. Tell them you love them. You never know when it’s gonna be your last chance. I miss you. And I’ll continue to share how great of a person, teammate, and friend you were.”

Note: If you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free support at 1-800-273-8255. Beginning July 16, 2022, U.S. residents can also be connected to the Lifeline by dialing 988. For more about risk factors and warning signs, visit the organization’s official website.