The Daily Nole

FSU Softball 2018: A Season for the Ages

Maury Neipris/FSU athletics

To call Florida State’s journey to its first softball national championship a magical one might be a bit of an understatement.

The Seminoles wrapped up the crown on Tuesday with an 8-3 win over Washington in the second game of the national championship series. FSU becomes the first ACC team ever to win the Women’s College World Series and the first in 13 years to do so after losing its opening game of the Women’s College World Series.

Between Elizabeth Mason’s 3-run home run in the sixth inning of the first of two games against UCLA on Sunday to Jessie Warren’s improbable diving catch in the first game of the championship series on Monday, it seemed to be becoming more and more obvious that the Seminoles weren’t going to be beat. Throughout the early parts of the season however, that wasn’t the case.

Growing Pains
For the final parts of the season, few teams were hotter than Florida State. Over its final 52 games, FSU went 46-6. Through its first 18 however, Florida State sat at just 12-6.

During the regular season, the Seminoles played the nation’s toughest non-conference schedule, but the personnel losses seemed to be bigger than expected. Freshman infielder Sydney Sherrill and Florida Atlantic transfer and pitcher Kylee Hanson were good from the start for the Seminoles, but losses to key players like Sydney Broderick, Alex Powers, Ellie Cooper and Jessica Burroughs seemed to be tougher to overcome than anticipated.

Early-season losses to the likes of Oregon, Alabama and Michigan were little to scoff at, but upset losses at home to solid mid-majors Hofstra and McNeese State and at South Alabama left something to be desired as the Seminoles scored just two total runs in those three games. As ACC play started, FSU seemed to hit its stride.

The Diminishing ACC Aura of Invincibility
After an undefeated conference record in 2017, Florida State got off to a 10-0 start in ACC play in 2018, but the games seemed to be more competitive. Three of those 10 wins were in 1-run games before the streak of 36 straight ACC wins ultimately came to an end in the second game of a doubleheader on April 6 — a 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh.

FSU would drop two more ACC contests to Boston College and Notre Dame, but easily claimed the regular season title for a sixth year in a row. The ACC Tournament however, brought more resistance than in past years. After rallying from small, early deficits to beat Louisville and Notre Dame with relative ease to open the ACC Tournament, it appeared as though the Seminoles’ stranglehold on the conference had come to an end.

In a mistake-plagued sixth inning against Pittsburgh for the ACC Championship, the Panthers broke a scoreless tie with four runs, leaving FSU just six outs to defend its streak of four straight ACC crowns. After pushing across a run in the sixth and another in the seventh, catcher Anna Shelnutt stepped to the plate with two runners on and two out in a 4-2 game.

Shelnutt had been outstanding as a freshman the year prior during the conference tournament and picked up where she left off. With the Seminoles’ conference title streak in doubt, Shelnutt smashed a 3-run walk-off home run to give Florida State an improbable 5-4 victory and the ACC crown. The victory was likely a difference-maker in FSU’s quest to earn a national seed, which it was awarded with the No. 6 overall seed.

The Legend of Jessie Warren
Throughout the course of the season, there was little question as to whom the Seminoles looked to as their leader. Third baseman and 2-time ACC Player of the Year, Jessie Warren, rewrote the record books as a senior.

Warren set ACC records for career home runs and RBIs, ranking in the top 10 all-time in home runs with 83 for her career. Her competitive nature, stellar bat control and unbelievable strength gave Seminole fans solace that as long as she was in the lineup, the team had a chance.

Sherrill, the freshman second baseman, earned ACC Freshman of the Year honors and had become a reliable “Robin” to Warren’s “Batman”. Sherrill set an FSU record for doubles in 2018 with 29.

The Team That Wouldn’t Die
As the NCAA Tournament and particularly the later rounds got underway, it became clear that the Seminoles embodied the “Unconquered” moniker associated with the tribe and adopted by the FSU athletic programs. After outscoring opponents by a combined score of 20-1 in the Tallahassee Regional, FSU found itself matched up with a familiar foe.

The LSU Tigers had faced FSU the year before in the best-of-three Tallahassee Super Regional. After dropping the first game to the Seminoles, LSU won in each of the final two days in 2017 to send Florida State home. LSU extended its win streak over the Seminoles to three in the 2018 Tallahassee Super Regional, winning 6-5 and forcing FSU to win the final two games to advance to the Women’s College World Series.

With Tropical Storm Alberto swirling about however, the Seminoles didn’t have the luxury of winning games in consecutive days. They were forced to win two games in one day to advance to a third Women’s College World Series in five years.

A third game looked inevitable after FSU built an early 5-1 lead in the second game of the Super Regional. That was until the fifth inning when LSU’s Shemiah Sanchez took pitcher Meghan King deep for a grad slam to knot things up. The teams went scoreless for the next five innings before the Seminoles pushed across three in the 11th to force a decisive game, which got underway just before 11 p.m. EST. FSU won that one, 3-1, to advance.

The Women’s College World Series opened last Thursday as Florida State took on UCLA in Oklahoma City. Early on, things looked good as the Seminoles built an early 4-0 lead. Then came the sixth inning when UCLA’s Kylee Perez hit a 3-run home run to cap a 6-run inning in what would be a 7-4 win for the Bruins and a potentially debilitating loss for Florida State.

Perseverance was key as FSU refused to stay on the mat. The Seminoles collected wins two days later over Georgia and No. 1 national seed Oregon, setting up another chance against UCLA. As it had done against LSU, Florida State was forced to win two games on Sunday against the Bruins to reach the championship series and did just that by following up a dramatic 3-1 win with a 12-6 victory that lacked drama.

For the first time ever, Florida State was in the championship series. After winning 1-0 over Washington on Monday, the Seminoles fell into an early 3-0 hole to the Huskies on Tuesday. By the end of the second inning, FSU held a 5-3 lead and never looked back in an eventual 8-3 victory to claim a first title.

Contributions Aplenty
What perhaps made Florida State’s championship run so special was the many contributors that came through in big moments. Warren and Sherrill continued to power the offense. Sherill homered twice during the Women’s College World Series and constantly gave FSU quality at-bats.

Warren was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Women’s College World Series, but her heroics started prior to that. Warren homered three times during the Super Regional against LSU, which included a 2-run shot in the decisive game — the difference in a 3-1 win.

Warren’s defensive play at third in the final inning on Monday night will likely live in FSU lore forever. With Washington trailing 1-0 and a runner on first with no one out, Warren came from nowhere to make a diving catch on a bunt attempt and double the runner off at first to help preserve the victory.

The heroics however, went well beyond Warren and Sherrill. Carsyn Gordon, a junior first baseman, may have had a 3-run home run in the win over UCLA to clinch a spot in the national championship, but that was hardly her biggest hit.

In the eighth inning against Auburn in the Tallahassee Regional, Gordon hit a walk-off inside-the-park home run for a 2-1 victory. Against another set of Tigers a week later, she homered in the 11th inning to give the Seminoles a 6-5 lead in an eventual 8-5 victory over LSU.

Gordon’s go-ahead home run was followed two batters later with a 2-run shot from Shelnutt, who has built a reputation for the dramatic home run. Shelnutt provided all the scoring in Monday night’s 1-0 win over Washington with a solo home run in the sixth inning. After the Seminoles fell behind 3-0 on Tuesday night, Shelnutt ignited FSU’s fire with a 2-run blast in the first inning.

Throughout the lower part of the order, the moments continued. Outfielder Zoe Casas had four hits and four RBIs in two elimination games on Saturday. Cali Harrod got the scoring started in the final win over UCLA with a solo blast in the second on Sunday. Elizabeth Mason, the team’s No. 9 hitter, may have had the biggest hit of all.

With the Seminoles trailing UCLA 1-0 with two on and two out in the sixth inning on Sunday, Mason blasted a 3-run home run, which may have preserved FSU’s season. In Tuesday’s national championship-clinching win, Mason was 2-for-3 with a home runs, two runs scored and three RBIs. Others not to be overlooked include Morgan Klaevemann, Deja Bush and Korina Rosario who provided speed and sound defense.

From the circle, the Seminoles’ one-two punch of ACC Pitcher of the Year, Kylee Hanson and Meghan King remained stellar. Hanson opened the NCAA Tournament with a 5-inning no-hitter against Jacksonville State and threw gems in the decisive game against LSU and in a Women’s College World Series elimination game against Oregon. The Women’s College World Series however, was King’s stage.

King went the distance to pick up four of the Seminoles’ six wins in Oklahoma City, including both of the championship contests against Washington. King also threw complete games in extra inning contests during earlier-round wins over Auburn and LSU. King appeared in all seven Women’s College World Series games, posting a tournament record 0.21 ERA.

With all eight national seeds reaching the Women’s College World Series, few would have probably predicted the sixth-seeded Seminoles would reign supreme, especially after opening their trip to Oklahoma City by blowing a 4-run. But with what seemed like a new hero each game, head coach Lonni Alameda’s team proved to have a mental toughness that its highly-ranked opponents just couldn’t match. As the Seminoles continually survived to play the next day, it became clear that they weren’t going to be denied.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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