March 4, 2004
Florida State traveled to Columbus, GA for the 2004 Leadoff Classic with a top 10 ranking and a lot of questions when it came to facing top competition. In 2003 the Seminoles broke into the top 10 while winning 27 straight games but went just 3-4 versus ranked teams and were eliminated from NCAA Regional play in just two games. This year early season tests versus No. 20 South Carolina and No. 5 Oklahoma were rained out so FSU had yet to play a ranked team despite climbing from 19th to No. 11 in the NFCA poll heading into this year’s Leadoff Classic. Florida State was scheduled to play No. 15 Texas and No. 4 Washington in pool play and the Seminoles got off to a great start. The Tribe needed eight innings and a bottom of the eighth comeback but recorded their first win of the season over a ranked squad downing Texas 2-1. Day two of the Leadoff Classic will go down as one of the greatest regular season days in FSU softball history. The day began at 10:00 a.m. with a 7-1 whitewashing of No. 4 Washington. The win clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the gold bracket for FSU and was one of the most lopsided wins over a top five team ever for Florida State. The Seminoles reward for being the No. 1 seed was an Oklahoma squad that was No. 5 in the nation but was upset in pool play and had to qualify as a wild card. Reminiscent of the win Friday night over Texas, FSU rallied from a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh to beat the Sooners 3-2 and move into the tournament semifinals. The two top five wins represented just the second time in program history that FSU had toppled two top five teams in the same day. The only other time that happened was in 1998 when FSU beat No. 2 Fresno State 2-1 and No. 3 Washington 1-0. The Seminoles picked up their fourth win over a top 25 team in the tournament semifinals in another dramatic win. Tatiana George’s two-run, two-out walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth moved Florida State passed No. 20 South Carolina and into the tournament championship. Despite FSU’s loss to then-No. 12 LSU 4-3 in the final, the Seminoles went 5-1 in the Leadoff Classic with four wins over ranked teams and three wins over 2003 Women’s College World Series squads (Washington, Texas and Oklahoma). In just three days FSU racked up more Top 25 wins than the team had in all of 2003.
BY GEORGE SHE GOT IT
There were so many clutch performances by FSU players on the team’s run to the Leadoff Classic championship game but it is hard to say anyone was more clutch than junior shortstop Tatiana George. While she hit just .267 over the weekend she slugged an eye-popping .667 and hit two homers while driving in a team-leading eight RBIs. In the first inning of FSU’s first game at the NFCA George came up with the bases loaded and the Tribe in front 1-0. The California native proceeded to hit the first grand slam of her career tying a career-high for RBIs in a game with one swing of the bat. She then set a new career high with her fifth RBI of the Army game as a bases loaded walk scored another run in FSU’s 10-0 win. Versus No. 4 Washington George drove in her sixth RBI of the tournament but she still had one big hit left in her bat. In the semifinal versus South Carolina, the game was in the bottom of the ninth and the international tiebreaker was in effect. The Seminoles had moved the runner to third but were unable to score Jessica van der Linden as she was thrown out at the plate. The play totally turned the momentum as FSU went from one out with runners on first and third to two outs with a runner on first. George seized the momentum back in one mighty swing as she jacked her second homer of the weekend giving FSU the 3-1 win and sending the team into the championship game. Her walk-off, two-run, game-winning bottom of the ninth homer drove in her seventh and eighth RBIs of the weekend and landed her on the all-tournament team.
Florida State’s play at the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic must have opened some eyes when you look at where the Seminoles are ranked in this week’s polls. Florida State moved from No. 11 to No. 6 in the USA Today /NFCA Poll jumped from No. 10 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll to No. 4. That number four ranking is the highest since the final ranking of 2002 when FSU finished in the semifinals of the College World Series. This is the highest in-season ranking for a Seminole softball team in a decade. Florida State peaked as high as No. 10 last season when they won 27-straight games and swept through the ACC Softball Championships. Florida State has now been ranked in the top ten of the national polls for at least one week for three straight years. That is a pretty special accomplishment when you consider that outside of the Pac-10, only four schools have been in the top 10 for at least one week the last three years. Oklahoma, LSU and Nebraska are the only other schools to do what FSU has done.
THE HITS KEEP COMING
One of the reasons FSU was able to down four ranked teams, two top five teams and three World Series teams at the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic was clutch hitting. It is hard to remember a time when FSU had as many dramatic hits in a three-day span. It all started in the bottom of the eighth versus Texas. The 2003 WCWS semifinalists took a 1-0 lead in the top of extra innings but FSU displayed patience at the plate in the bottom of the frame and drew two walks to load the bases. Lesley Palmer then drove a single past the shortstop tying the game, which Elisa Vasquez went on to win with her game-winning, RBI infield single. Versus No. 4 Washington, the Tribe was in control all game but a big reason for that was the tone set in the first inning by Lesley Palmer. With ace Tia Bollinger on the mound, UW seemed to avoid a rocky start when Bollinger recorded the second out of the inning and it looked like FSU was going to strand two runners. Palmer stepped up and launched a 0-1 pitch out of the park for a three-run home run. The Seminoles never relinquished the lead after going up 3-0 and went on to record its most impressive win of the season. There were more heroics on tap versus No. 5 Oklahoma as FSU moved into bracket play. It began in the third when the Sooners jumped on top 2-0 but before they could get comfortable in the lead FSU answered back immediately in the bottom of the inning. Jessica van der Linden singled home two runs as she tied the game with a single to right field. In the bottom of the seventh the Seminoles were tied 2-2 with OU and seemed headed to extra innings for the second time in the tournament before van der Linden struck again. The senior’s walk-off, two-out double to center scored the winning run as van der Linden drove in all three RBIs in the game. It was a clutch hit before van der Linden got up though that set the table for her heroics. Katie Fricke’s pinch-hit that started the whole rally and she scored the game-winning run. In the semifinal it was Tatiana George’s two-out, two-run bottom of the ninth jack that won the game for FSU. In its six games at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, the Seminoles won three of their six games in the last at bat due to walk-off RBI hits, the Tribe won two extra inning games and the team hit seven home runs with 26 RBIs.
THREE TIMES A LADY
This is getting a little ridiculous. For the fourth straight week a Seminole won ACC player of the week honors and for the third week in a row that player was Jessica van der Linden. The senior had won the award just twice in her career before this year and now she has captured it three straight weeks. The award was well deserved as the pitcher/outfielder led FSU past two top five teams, four ranked teams, three 2003 Women’s College World Series teams and into the finals of the gold bracket at the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic tournament. On the hill, the southpaw went 3-0 with a 0.34 ERA, one earned run, 35 strikeouts and just six walks. Despite facing No. 4 Washington, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 20 South Carolina, van der Linden allowed just seven hits versus those three top 20 teams and only one earned run. After an impressive one-hit blanking of Army, van der Linden was dominant against No. 4 Washington. The FSU leftie didn’t allow a hit to the Huskies until the fourth inning and allowed just two hits all day to a Huskie team that was hitting .309 and averaging over six runs per game. She held 2003 Diamond Sports Catcher of the Year Kristen Rivera hitless in three at bats and didn’t allow UW a run until the game was 6-0 in the sixth inning. Proved how clutch she is at the plate and on the hill versus No. 5 Oklahoma when she came in to relieve Casey Hunter in the fourth inning. The Cerritos, CA native trotted into the circle from her spot in the outfield and proceeded to shut down the Sooner offense for the last 2.2 innings including getting out of a bases loaded jam with back-to-back K’s with the game tied 2-2. She also got the job done at the plate versus OU. Her two-RBI single tied the game in the third after Oklahoma had just taken a 2-0 lead. Then her two out, walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh sent FSU through to the semifinals. For her efforts, van der Linden was named to the NFCA Leadoff Classic All-Tournament team.
ANOTHER WCWS TEAM
One of the biggest accomplishments for FSU at the Leadoff Classic was beating three of the eight teams that played in the 2003 College World Series. While rosters change from year-to-year, it was a good sign that FSU is capable of competing at that level in 2004. Florida State will get a chance to try and win its fourth straight game against a WCWS team this weekend as Louisiana-Lafayette comes to the Seminole Challenge. The Ragin’ Cajuns were the sweethearts on the 2003 WCWS and are off to a hot start again in 2004. If the Seminoles were able to beat ULL, it would be the team’s fifth win over a top 25 team in the last eight days and would give FSU four wins over World Series teams. The most since 2002 when FSU was in the WCWS and beat three World Series teams that season (UCLA, Oklahoma and Nebraska).
Sophomore Natasha Jacob is continuing to show why she was considered one of the top recruits in the nation in 2003. The sophomore had a solid year as a freshman but didn’t have as big of an impact as she would have hoped. That isn’t the case this year. After a 3 for 16 start to the season, Jacob has been on fire and raised her average from .188 to .316 in the last 10 games. In that span she has gone 9 for 22, recorded seven of her nine sacrifices and hit the first home run of her career. She is reaching almost 89% of the time when she leads off an inning and is advancing runners 60% of the time, third-best on the team. The one area she hasn’t needed to heat up in is defense where she has gone 72 consecutive starts without making an error. The left fielder has never been charged with an error in her career. Her defensive prowess was on display at the NFCA Leadoff Classic where she made critical plays in the outfield that kept FSU in the semifinal and championship game. She wasn’t too shabby at the plate either leading the team with a .429 batting average. She also slugged .643 and was on base over 52% of the time. Her play resulted in her selection to the all-tournament team.
The 2004 Seminole Challenge features some familiar faces. The Tribe has played every team in the tournament at some point in the past and is 37-12 versus the field but that doesn’t mean the Seminoles are taking their opponents lightly, two in particular. The last time FSU played Penn State and No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette the Seminoles lost both games. The win was the Nittany Lion’s first ever over FSU but it was the fifth straight victory for the Cajuns against Florida State. ULL is coming off a magical run into the 2003 College World Series and this is the first trip outside of the state of Louisiana for the squad. Penn State is 1-9 but eight of their ten games have come against ranked opponents. FSU will be hoping to reverse the recent trend against PSU and ULL.
Florida State leads the all-time series 18-4 against the University of Connecticut with the last meeting coming in 2001 in which the Seminoles shut out the Huskies in two games at home…the Huskies come into Tallahassee with a record of 1-4 winning their last game against Jacksonville 10-2…the Huskies are led by Junior Jen D’Angelo with a .400 batting average…the leading pitcher is Sophomore Michelle Caouette with a 2.45 ERA.
Florida State leads the all-time series with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 9-7…ULL has won the last five meetings including a 3-0 win at last year’s Kia Klassic…the Ragin’ Cajuns come into Tallahassee ranked #11 in the nation with a record of 20-2 and 4-1 on the road…they are coming off a loss at the hands of McNeese State…Louisiana-Lafayette is led by Freshman Holly Tankersley at the plate who has put up some impressive numbers…she is batting .411 with 8 HR’s and 19 RBI’s…Junior Brooke Mitchell leads the pitching staff with a 14-1 record, 5 shutouts and 195 strikeouts.
Florida State leads the all-time series 7-1 with the last meeting last season in Tallahassee when Penn St. won 4-3 in extra innings…the Nittany Lions come into Tallahassee with a 1-9 record but have faced 8 teams in the top 25…it doesn’t get any easier as they open the tournament against #11 University of Louisiana- Lafayette at 1:30pm on Friday and then face the No. 4 Seminoles at 3:30pm…Penn St. has a cumulative batting average of .140 led by Freshman Jen Williams with a .273…Senior Marissa Hanson leads the team in ERA with 1.57 and Sophomore Missy Beseres has the team’s only win.
Florida State leads the all-time series 2-0 but hasn’t faced Rhode Island since 1993 when the Seminoles shut them out at home…the Rams come into Tallahassee with a 0-5 record…they will start off the tournament against St. Johns at 1:30pm on Friday, March 5th then face Florida State at 5:30pm…Rhode Island is led by Freshman Alyssa Marino with a .400 BA…while Senior Lee-Anne Stanovich has a 0.00 ERA with an 0-1 record in 2 starts.
This will be the second time ever that the Seminoles have faced the St. John’s Red Storm when they battle at 3:30pm on Saturday, March 6th…the last meeting came in 2002 when the Seminoles beat St. John’s 8-3 at home…St. John’s comes into Tallahassee with a 5-7 record and 1-6 on the road…the Red Storm is led by Sophomore Jo Sherlock at the plate with a .483 BA and 15 RBI’s…Junior Megan Allman leads the pitching staff with 2 wins and a 1.84 ERA.
Even though FSU lost 4-3 to NO. 3 LSU in the Leadoff Classic championship game, the outing was one of the best of the season at the plate for Florida State. The Seminoles equaled a season high with 11 hits versus LSU, which was first set against Florida A&M. The Tribe hit national player of the week Kristin Schmidt but you have to give her credit for not allowing the Seminoles to cash in on their 11 hits and keeping the Tribe at bay especially with bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the sixth in a 4-3 game.
VAN DER LINDEN NOTE OF THE WEEK
Jessica van der Linden continued to find ways to lead her team to victory even when she was struggling, a relative term for the first team All-American, in one area. The senior was absolutely brilliant in the circle winning three of FSU’s five games and allowing just one earned run for a sparkling 0.34 ERA. To really get a true feeling for how special van der Linden is, you just have to look at the Tribe’s run at the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic. In FSU’s five wins, van der Linden picked up three wins on the hill, she had two-game-winning RBIs and scored a game-winning run. One way or another, you can directly attribute four of FSU’s five wins to van der Linden. In the first game versus Army, she had the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the first inning and pitched a five-inning one hitter. Then against No. 4 Washington she pitched a seven inning two hitter and didn’t even allow a Huskie hit until the fourth and the first inning run she scored after drawing a walk was the game-winner. All she did versus No. 5 Oklahoma knock in all three RBIs in a 3-2 win and pitch the last 2.2 innings of the game holding the Sooners hitless and picking up the win. She then went out and pitched six innings versus No. 20 South Carolina allowing just one run, which was unearned. She struck out 11 and issued only one walk.
Freshman Veronica Wootson continues to impress and is quickly putting together a season that could make her the first ACC Rookie of the Year from FSU since Jessica van der Linden in 2001. The California native has been remarkably consistent all season at the plate. She is currently in the midst of a five-game hitting streak, she leads FSU with six multi-hit games and she has at least one hit in 14 of Florida State’s 19 games this year. She is third on the team in average (.317), second in doubles, first in total bases, runs scored, hits, stolen bases and triples. If you want an idea of just how impressive Wootson has been through the first 19 games of her career, she leads FSU in as many offensive categories (five) as All-American Jessica van der Linden. Wootson’s average has never dipped below .270 all year and she has finished a game with a season average at .300 or above in 12 of 19 games. Wootson hasn’t built big numbers on weaker teams either as evidenced by her .381 average at the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic where FSU played six games and five were against ranked teams. At the NFCA she led the team with eight hits, eight runs scored and two doubles. She also hit the first home run of her career and was fourth on the team with a .618 slugging percentage.
RIPPING THE RIBBIES
Coming into the 2004 season the Seminole coaches felt confident they would have on of their best hitting teams in a long time and when it comes to RBIs there is no question that is true. In just 19 games this season Florida State has already recorded six or more RBIs in eight games. Last year the Seminoles had a total of 16 games with six or more RBIs in a 57 game season. Eight games with six or more RBIs is almost 2/3 as many as the 2002 team had in 75 games (13) and almost half as many as the 2001 team had in 70 games (19). Through 19 games the 2003 Seminoles have 88 RBIs. Through 19 games last year the team had a total of 71. Florida State is averaging 4.6 RBIs per game, way above the record set last year when FSU averaged 4.1 RBIs per game.
WALK THE WALK
As an opposing hitter you have to have a pretty keen eye and some patience if you expect to draw a walk versus the 2004 Seminole pitching staff. In 19 games, FSU pitchers have issued more than three walks in a game just twice all year and on 13 occasions Seminole hurlers has issued either zero or one walk. Casey Hunter and Jessica van der Linden are the centerpieces of this year’s staff just as they were last season when FSU issued the fewest walks in a decade. The pair issued just one walk per four strikeouts last year and in 2004 they are walking a batter just once per every seven-plus K’s.
While it is still pretty early in the year, FSU is back in its accustomed place atop the ACC statistical standings. FSU is tied for the lead among all ACC teams in team batting and team pitching. Jessica van der Linden is the ACC’s top pitcher and she and Veronica Wootson led the conference in runs scored per game. Wootson and teammate Elisa Vasquez are 1-2 in the ACC in doubles and van der Linden leads the league in walks and on base percentage. Van der Linden leads the ACC in five of seven pitching categories as well.
As if beating No. 4 Washington, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 15 Texas wasn’t good enough all by itself, there is another reason to be especially jacked up about those wins if you are Seminole softball fan. The last time FSU beat UT, UW and OU all in the same season was 2002 and that year the Tribe found itself in the College World Series. In 2002 FSU also faced South Carolina but the Tribe lost that game 4-0 whereas they beat the Gamecocks 3-1 this season.
PAC IT IN
The Seminoles’ win over Washington was a big victory for a lot of reasons. First off the Huskies were ranked fourth in the nation and any time you beat a top five team its good for business. Second, assistant coach Eve Gaw played at UW. While she has nothing but love for her Huskies it is always nice to be able to show well in front of your old team and her pitchers did that all weekend. Probably the biggest reason it was such a big win is because it came against a Pac-10 school. As much as parity has affected college softball, the Pac 10 is still the Goliath of softball conferences and the fact that every Pac 10 school is ranked in the top 25 is proof of that. The Tribe was just 7-39 all-time against Pac 10 schools before the win over Washington and it was the most lopsided win for FSU over a Pac 10 school in almost 20 years. In 1985 FSU beat Stanford 9-1 but every other win over a Pac 10 team has been by just one run before the six-run margin versus Washington at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.
AT HOMER IN GEORGIA
Tallahassee is pretty close to the Georgia border and that is a good this for the FSU softball team. The proximity means lots of trips to the peach state where this current crop of Seminoles seems to love to hit home runs. In the last three years FSU has homered 23 times in 27 games in Georgia, an average of 1.7 home runs every two games. In every other state of the union including Florida, the Seminoles averaged 1.7 homers every five games. Tatiana George is the leading culprit. Of George’s seven lifetime homers, six have come in the state of Georgia.