Feb. 2, 2004
There really isn’t anything that compares to opening day. Hope springs eternal even if the calendar hasn’t officially turned from winter as of yet. Opening day has been good for Florida State over time. Since 1984, FSU is 18-2 in the first game of the season and 16-4 in the second game. In openers, the Tribe averages 5.45 runs/game and has shut out 11 of its 20 opening day opponents. The most runs FSU has scored in an opener is 12 in 1984 versus FAMU. The Tribe pitching staff has been exceptional in their first outing of the year allowing just 18 runs in 20 games. They allow less than a run per game in season openers. The only time Florida State has been blanked in a season opener was in 1991 when perennial power Cal beat the Seminoles 4-0. That was also the most runs FSU has ever given up in an opener. This will be the first time since 1998 that FSU hasn’t opened a season against Georgia Southern. The Tribe has opened six of the last seven seasons against the Eagles.
LAST FIVE SEASON OPENERS
2003 W 7-2 Ga. Southern 2002 W 7-0 Ga. Southern 2001 W 8-0 Ga. Southern 2000 W 8-0 Ga. Southern 1999 L 3-1 Ga. Southern
Even though only one of the Seminoles’ opponents in the 2004 Seminole Classic made the 2003 NCAA Tournament, the Tribe will get tested in their first week of action. Both Illinois State and Florida A&M are coming off winning seasons and Louisville finished 2003 just two games below .500. Minnesota, who looks to be FSU’s stiffest challenger in the field, is coming off a big season that saw the team advance to the NCAA Regional at Arizona. The Tribe though has had success against this group overall going 86-6 all-time versus these four teams. In fact, FSU has won the last meeting with each squad by a combined score of 18-1. The only team that has already opened its 2004 season is Illinois State, which went 1-1 at the Diamond Fun & Sun Classic hosted by Florida International. The Birds lost their opener 2-0 to Auburn where they were held to just two hits but bounced back to beat host FIU 1-0.
GORILLAS IN THE MIDST
Even though FSU’s second longest winning streak in school history came to an end in the 2003 Gainesville Regional, the squad’s regular season win streak is still alive. The last time the Tribe lost a regular season game was March 14, 2003. That loss came at the hands of College World Series participant Louisiana-Lafayette. Since that game at the KIA Klassic, Florida State has won 24 consecutive regular season games heading into opening day 2004. That isn’t the only streak the Tribe will try to extend in 2004. The Seminoles are also in the midst of a 26 game ACC win streak that dates back to 2001. The last ACC team to beat FSU in a conference game was Georgia Tech. They’ll be the first to get a crack at stopping that streak this year when the team’s open ACC play April 3 in Tallahassee.
NO JIVE, SHE JUST NEEDS FIVE
Every year head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf passes another major career milestone. Last year she became the only coach in collegiate softball history to record 1200 all-time wins. The year before she became the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s (NFCA) all-time wins leader. She has passed every mark there is for a coach to surpass except one. With just five more victories, Graf will record her 1000th fast pitch win. That would make her just the second Division I coach in NCAA history to record 1000 wins and only the third coach in collegiate softball history to reach that mark. For the NFCA Hall of Fame coach you can be sure when she notches that milestone win, it will just be another day at the park for the consummate professional.
2004 marks the first season in Seminole softball history where FSU will open a campaign with two returning NFCA All-Americans on the roster. First teamer Jessica van der Linden and third teamer Elisa Vasquez both recorded the honors as juniors last year. Vasquez became the first catcher in FSU history to garner All-American honors from the NFCA and van der Linden is just the fifth first team NFCA All-American in school history.
WELCOME BACK WHITEY
Opening day will mark the return of two familiar faces. The Tribe will open Seminole Classic Tournament play Friday where they will face Florida A&M for the 83rd time in school history. That is the longest series with any opponent in team history. Before the Seminoles welcome the Rattlerettes back to FSU, the Tribe will begin the day against Minnesota, a team they have faced just three times with the last coming in 1999. What will be familiar about the Golden Gophers, it will be the return of former FSU great Jen Stokes (formerly Jen White). The Minnesota assistant coach will return to the diamond where she still ranks in the top five for career games, wins and innings. The last time Stokes stepped on the dirt at the Seminole Softball Complex was in the 2001 NCAA Tallahassee Regional final versus Cal. She pitched 6.2 innings and didn’t allow an earned run as the Tribe lost a heart-breaker just one strike away from the College World Series.
THE FEAR OF HYPHENS
Last season FSU had one of its most successful seasons ever at the plate. The 2003 team had the third-highest batting average in school history, tied an all-time record for walks and was also in the top five all time at FSU for doubles and home runs in a season. The 2003 Seminoles also had one of the best seasons at the plate when it comes to hitting for power. No previous squad has ever combined for more doubles, home runs and RBIs in a season than the 2003 team. In fact, three returning Seminole starters slugged over .520 last year. That was just the second time in two decades that three Seminoles slugged over .500 in one season and this will be the first time all three are returning. Florida State was only shutout four times all of last season and all four teams made the NCAA Tournament with two of the four teams making the WCWS. The four team that shutdown the potent FSU offense were Oregon State, Arizona, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas-Arlington. The last two teams (ULL and UTA) to blank the Tribe both had hyphenated names and they were the only two schools on FSU’s 2003 schedule that had hyphens in their names. So FSU was shutout 100% of the time when facing teams with hyphenated names compared teams with non-hyphenated names that shut out FSU just .36% of the time. Good thing the Tribe plays just one team (Louisiana-Lafayette) with a hyphen in its name this year.
THAT GOT US THINKING
All this talk about shutouts got us thinking. How many times have the Seminoles been shutout and have they ever gone a whole year without being blanked once? Well our crack staff of research interns got on the case and found out that the fewest times FSU had ever been shutout in a season (since moving to fast pitch) was two and that happened twice (1993 and 1997). The most times the Tribe was held without a run was 12 in 1985, just the teams second year in fast pitch. The last time a Seminole squad went a whole season without being blanked was 1982. Overall, in 20 years the Tribe has been shutout 120 times, which averages out to just six times per season. Considering that those 120 shutouts came in 1303 games, being blanked by your opponent less than 1% of the time isn’t too shabby. On the other hand, Florida State has blanked their opponents 523 times for an average of over 26 per season. The most shutouts an FSU pitching staff has ever registered was 41 in 1992 and the least was 10 in 1998. In 1993 the Seminoles recorded 37 including an amazing 17 straight.
WOW LOOK AT THAT SCHEDULE
There are a lot of challenges facing the 2004 Seminoles. Replacing two-time All-American Brandi Stuart at second and in the line-up will be a challenge. Starting two freshmen opening day will be another and having the pitching staff repeat its miraculous 2003 performance could be a tall task. None of those compare to the challenge that will be provided by the Tribe’s 2004 schedule. Florida State’s schedule includes nine top 25 teams (No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 Nebraska, No. 9 Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 10 Michigan, No. 10 Texas, No. 18 Texas A&M, No. 20 Arizona State and No. 22 South Carolina). The Seminoles will also be in tournaments with six other ranked opponents including No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Cal and No. 7 Georgia. Overall, six of the NFCA’s top 10 teams are Seminole opponents and FSU will face off versus half of the 2003 WCWS field in 2004. On top of that, FSU is scheduled to play 15 teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season. If you include tournaments, the Tribe could potentially meet 25 of the 64 NCAA Tournament teams.
Two true freshmen are currently penciled in to start opening day for the Seminoles. LaShaun Davis will start in center field when Jessica van der Linden comes in to pitch and Veronica Wootson will take the place of four-year starter and two-time All-American Brandi Stuart at second. If both players do start opening day, it will mark the first time since 1999 that two freshmen have started together opening day. That year Kimmy Carter and Leslie Malerich started opening day and they went on to lead FSU to three straight regional finals and a Women’s College World Series. In fact, starting as a freshman has been a pretty good omen for many players the past few years. All-Americans Brandi Stuart, Jessica van der Linden, Leslie Malerich and Elisa Vasquez all started on opening day. Every Seminole to earn NFCA All-American honors has started from day one of her freshman year.
WE SAW THE SOUTHPAW
Left-handed pitchers are a rarity in college softball and they are generally tougher to hit. While the advantage isn’t as great as the one seen in baseball, southpaw pitchers do usually have an edge. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to see how well FSU has done against lefties the last three seasons. Overall, the Tribe is 10-2 the last three years versus lefties including 3-0 records in 2001 and 2003. Why have the Tribe had so much success? Trying to hit first team All-American Jessica van der Linden, a southpaw herself, for four years may have something to do with that.
STAFF AND A HALF
Florida State returns two starting pitchers who posted the nation’s fourth best ERA as a staff in first team All-American Jessica van der Linden and junior Casey Hunter. Those two will hold the key to the Seminoles’ 2004 success according to head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf but a repeat performance this year will be tough considering what the two did in 2003. Hunter’s 0.67 ERA was one of the 10 best single season ERA’s in FSU history and was the fifth best in the NCAA last year. Van der Linden’s 1.07 ERA was 16th in the NCAA and she and Hunter were the only two pitchers from one school to rank in the top 16 of the NCAA stats for ERA. Not only did the duo stack up well in the NCAA statistics, what they accomplished in the FSU record books puts their 2003 season up with the best of all time at Florida State. The duo gave up the fourth-fewest hits in a season, had the third-most strikeouts, became the first staff to ever go an entire season without allowing a triple, gave up the sixth fewest walks and the seventh fewest runs. Most amazingly, Hunter and van der Linden allowed two earned runs or fewer in 54 of 57 games and no earned runs on 28 occasions.