Feb. 29, 2004
Columbus, GA –
Tatiana George was the hero for Florida State Sunday and due to her ninth-inning, two-run, walk-off homer, FSU will play for the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic Championship. The 10th-ranked Seminoles (17-1) and 20th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2) staged an epic nine inning battle in the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic semifinal Sunday afternoon in Columbus, GA but it was George’s two out homer in the bottom of the ninth that was the difference.
Casey Hunter pitched three innings in relief and improved to 8-0 on the season. The junior pitched the seventh, eighth and ninth and held USC hitless while walking no batters and striking out seven. George and Veronica Wootson each homered for FSU and Natasha Jacob’s outfield play keyed FSU’s run to the title game. This is the first time Florida State has ever played for the Leadoff Classic Tournament title. They will meet No. 12 LSU in the final. The meeting will be between the only undefeated teams in the tournament.
Florida State hurler van der Linden struck out the first two batters she faced before allowing an infield single to short to extend the inning. It looked like USC would break on top as Ashley Smith sent a deep drive to left that looked like it was out of the park. Left fielder Natasha Jacob tracked the ball all the way to the fence and made the catch less than a foot short of leaving R.G. Jones Field.
The Seminoles, maybe inspired by Smith’s deep shot, decided to play a little long ball themselves. The Tribe’s first hitter Veronica Wootson feel down 0-2 to Aleca Johnson before ripping the third pitch over the fence in left center. The ball landed over 210 feet away and was the first career homerun for the highly recruited freshman. It was the second time FSU homered in the first inning in the tournament and both came in the main stadium at the South Commons Softball Complex.
The FSU southpaw continued to fire in the second inning as she set down the side in order and all via the K. The USA Softball Player of the Year candidate had 20 strikes in her first 21 pitches through two innings.
In the top of the third, South Carolina recorded its second hit of the game and second two-out single. Van der Linden came right back and ended the inning on a sharply hit grounder to third, which Lesley Palmer handled with ease.
The Seminoles’ Carly Brieske led off the home half of the third by smoking a single to left field. LaShaun Davis followed with a walk bringing up the early hero for FSU in Wootson. The second baseman almost had her second HR of the game but just pulled a deep shot foul before popping out to short for the first out of the inning. Johnson then got out of the game via another pop out and her fourth K of the afternoon.
Elisa Vasquez led off the bottom of the fourth with a single into shallow center and that hit signaled the end of Johnson’s day. The junior was pulled from the game for one of the first times in her career. That brought in 6’3″ pitcher Melanie Henkes (3-0). After Henkes struck out the first batter she faced, Tatiana George laced a single through the third baseman’s legs to put runners on first and second. The Gamecocks worked their way out of trouble though by turning a double play to retire the side.
Florida State started to get to Henkes in the fifth. Brieske led off with a smash down the right field line but first baseman Meghan Cornett looked up and found the drive caught in the webbing of her glove. LaShaun Davis then singled and moved around to third on a ground out and wild pitch. Natasha Jacob’s slap to short looked like it would plate Davis but USC just got the speedy left fielder at first to end the threat and the inning.
The Gamecocks led off the sixth with another infield single and than an error on a sac bunt put runners on first and second with no outs. It was the first time all day that a USC runner made it into scoring position. Jacob came through with another big defensive play in left as she snared a line drive that was tailing away but looked like it would land in fair territory. Van der Linden’s 10th strikeout was a big one for the second out of the inning on a 3-2 pitch. The senior couldn’t escape danger though as an RBI single into center field tied the game. The unearned run broke up van der Linden’s attempted shutout and put a momentary damper on her hopes for a fourth win in the tournament. Van der Linden closed the inning with her 11th K of the day.
Hunter came in to relieve van der Linden in the top of the seventh and the junior proceeded to set down South Carolina in order with two strikeouts. Henkes continued her mastery over the Seminoles in the seventh as the game moved into extra innings and the international tiebreaker went into effect. FSU won its only extra inning game of the tournament when they defeated Texas 2-1. South Carolina is 1-1 at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in extra inning contests.
Hunter started the eighth strong with three strikeouts leaving the runner placed at second right where she started the inning. Brieske was placed at second for FSU and Davis led off the inning. The freshman worked a full count and then drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Wootson watched three straight balls to start her at bat but ended up swinging through strike three for the first out. Katie Fricke then came in to pinch hit where she was 3-for-5 on the year in that role. The transfer couldn’t come through though as she struck out swinging for the second out of the frame and then Henkes retired the side on another K.
Hunter induced a grounder to start the ninth and the runner placed at second could not advance as the ball was softly hit to the third base side. The FSU hurler then got Smith looking at strike three for her sixth K of the game in just 2.2 innings. Hunter ended the top half of the ninth in grand fashion with another K.
Elisa Vasquez started the ninth with a perfect sacrifice bunt, which moved van der Linden over to third and 60 feet away from winning the game. Lesley Palmer’s grounder to second wasn’t good enough to win the game for FSU as van der Linden was gunned out at home as she tried to send FSU into the championship game. That brought up George who’s blast just curved around the fair pole in right field for the game winner.
Live stats will be available for the contest at the official athletic website for FSU at www.seminoles.com.