TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Unofficially, Jessie Warren hit her first home run at JoAnne Graf Field before she ever put on a Florida State uniform.
More than four years ago, Warren and her high school coach, Sherman Johnson (the father of the former FSU baseball standout by the same name) visited Tallahassee for a skills clinic, and Warren, then a star at Tampa’s Alonso High, stepped into the batter’s box with the Seminoles’ coaching staff serving as a captive audience.
“She put three over the scoreboard,” FSU coach Lonni Alameda said. “All the coaches looked at each other and said, ‘This girl can play.’”
All the coaches were right.
And never more so than they were late Saturday night – make that early Sunday morning – when Warren launched the very last home run she’ll hit at JoAnne Graf Field, a towering, two-run shot to left-center that lifted FSU to a 3-1 victory over Louisiana State in Game 3 of the NCAA Tallahassee Super Regional.
Jessie Warren's TWO-RUN shot gives @FSUsoftball the lead over LSU!
— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 27, 2018
That victory, coupled with an 8-5 win in an 11-inning marathon earlier in the day, sent Warren and the Seminoles to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
FSU, seeded sixth in the NCAA tournament, will meet No. 3-seed UCLA in its first game of the tournament.
“That was one of my goals before the season: To get back to OKC,” said Warren, a senior who homered in all three Super Regional games. “I’m really speechless and have no words.”
Her head coach had a few.
“We literally just saw Jessie Warren grow up in front of our eyes, into an amazing ballplayer,” Alameda said. “We knew that before, but it’s just good to see the maturity really show up and take this team.
“She’s truly grown up into an amazing young woman. She led the team.”
Indeed, Warren has always been a superstar slugger – she hit career home runs Nos. 79, 80 and 81 this weekend and is the ACC’s all-time home run champ – and she’s just as accomplished as a defensive third baseman.
But where Alameda saw Warren truly grow this season, and most of all, on Saturday night, was as a leader in the dugout.
It sounds like a somewhat trivial thing, at least when stacked up against all those home runs, but consider that the Seminoles entered this season having recently said goodbye to an All-American first baseman (Alex Powers) and All-American pitcher (Jessica Burroughs).
It might have taken a little while, but, on Saturday, Warren emerged as the leader Alameda believed she could be.
She was active and engaged for every pitch – not just the ones when she was at the plate – she was patient in her at-bats, and she relayed steady words of encouragement to all of her surrounding teammates, particularly pitchers Meghan King and Kylee Hanson.
At one point, she even led the Seminoles in a coordinated dance as music blared over the stadiums loudspeakers.
“She didn’t let down for one minute about anything,” Alameda said. “That’s leadership.”
That, coupled with her on-field performance – she hit three home runs and accounted for eight of FSU’s 16 runs in the series – made Warren awfully tough for LSU to deal with. And it’s the biggest reason the Seminoles are headed back to Oklahoma City for the third time in five years.
“She’s a great player and she did a great job,” LSU coach Beth Torina said. “She was everything she’s billed to be.”
No matter their outcome, Saturday’s games were always going to be Warren’s last in Tallahassee.
The only question was whether they would be the last in Warren’s collegiate career, too.
Three home runs later, the answer is a resounding no.
Warren’s time with the Seminoles may be nearing its end, but thanks to her Super Regional heroics, there’s still potential for many big moments to come.
“We’re going to miss her a ton,” Alameda said. “Thank goodness we get to play with her another week.”