Feb. 19, 2004
After 10 straight wins to start the season, FSU has ascended back to some lofty ground in the most recent ESPN and NFCA polls. The Seminoles jumped from 19 to 11 in the most recent NFCA poll and from 16 to 10 in the ESPN/USA Softball rankings. Dating back to last season, FSU has been in the top 10 of thee of the last six ESPN/USA Softball polls. That says a lot about how coach JoAnne Graf has brought her program back to the top after missing regionals in 1997 and 1999. Just a year later she played in a regional final in 2000 and again in 2001. Then in 2002 she guided her team to the national semi-finals at the WCWS. Now FSU is once again becoming a fixture in the top 10. Florida State has appeared in the top 10 for at least one week in each of the last three seasons.
WHAT MORE CAN YOU SAY
In this week’s installment of “Can you believe what Jessica van der Linden is doing”…sometimes it feels like the senior keeps topping every accomplishment with another amazing feat and that you need an almost weekly look at the All-American’s stats. One stat that stands out after 10 games cannot be ignored. Van der Linden currently has a slugging percentage of .800 and on base percentage of .645, absolutely amazing numbers. To see a player hit with power and get on base that consistently as well is rare. To put that in perspective, as a junior UCLA All-American Stacey Nuveman had an.873 slugging percentage and a .615 on base percentage and she is considered one the game’s all-time greats. Nuveman did that over 68 games in 2002, which is a stunning accomplishment so van der Linden has a while to go to finish with numbers in that same realm. The best season ever turned in by A Seminole in both of those categories in the same year was Brandi Stuart’s 2002 campaign when she slugged .647 and posted a .508 on base percentage. Stuart’s fellow Cerritos alum is well ahead of that pace just ten games in. The key to both of those players success was not only being great hitters but the fact that both were coming off NFCA first team All-American seasons. With that label comes a reputation and a lot of walks, which help the on base percentage. Stuart and van der Linden are already 1-2 in single season walks and with one more free pass; the duo will be 1-2 in career walks at FSU. Considering the amount of times she is walked and how many good pitches she actually gets in a game, van der Linden’s career slugging percentage of .480 is simply amazing.
CAN’T HIT WHAT YOU CAN’T HIT
In the last four games both Jessica van der Linden and Casey Hunter have thrown no-hitters, which is the first time in at least a decade that two FSU pitchers have thrown no-nos within a week of one another. That is amazing in itself but that is just a snapshot of the entire story. This is the second year that Hunter and van der Linden have been FSU’s primary starters on the hill and the duo just don’t give up hits. Last season FSU allowed the fourth fewest hits in team history and the staff allowed three hits or less in 22 of the season’s final 39 games. In fact, the FSU staff threw four one hitters in its last 19 starts. That trend is continuing this season. In the last four games, FSU has thrown two no-hitters and a one-hitter. Seminole pitchers have allowed two hits or less in half of this year’s games and no team has more than four hits versus the FSU staff in any game. If they keep this up, Hunter and van der Linden will challenge the vaunted 1984-86 staff that holds the top three single season records for fewest hits in a season.
SOLID IN THE MIDDLE
Through the first ten games of the year, FSU is averaging seven runs per game. No team in FSU fast pitch history has ever averaged over five runs per game. It is obviously way to early in the season to read anything into that but there is a definite reason FSU is scoring so many runs in the early part of 2004. If you look at the meat of the order, batters 3-7, it is easy to see why the Seminoles are pushing runs across the plate. Jessica van der Linden, Lesley Palmer, Elisa Vasquez, Veronica Wootson and Carly Brieske are hitting .393 with runners on base and .410 with runners in scoring position. They have 36 of FSU’s 51 RBIs and as a group they are slugging a phenomenal .544. When you add in Beth Wade and Tatiana George, each is hitting .300 or above and slugging between .450 and .708, FSU has seven hitters who can produce up and down the line-up card.
WHAT A RATIO
Jessica van der Linden’s 58 strikeouts in 29.2 innings are pretty amazing. The senior southpaw has struck out eight batters or more in every one of her appearances this year and in three of five outings she has recorded double digit K’s. In her best three outings she amassed a stunning 41 K’s in 17.2 innings of work. The single season K record for FSU is 307 and while not unreachable at this pace, it is a very difficult mark to break but the senior could become the seventh pitcher ever to lead the team in strikeouts and fewest walks. She has led the team in walks allowed the past two seasons and has issued just four so far this year. With her 58 strikeouts and four walks, van der Linden has a strikeout to walk ratio of almost 15:1. No pitcher who ever led FSU in K’s and walks in the same season had a ratio near 15:1. The best ratio among those seven pitchers is Christy Larsen’s 9:1 and nobody else is even over 5.5:1. Just another area in which van der Linden is making a case as one of the best all-around players in school history.
WORTH HER WADE IN GOLD
Senior Beth Wade has continued her blazing hot start to 2004 and she is finishing her career in spectacular fashion. The first baseman is hitting .375 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBIs. Her slugging percentage is at .708, her fielding percentage is perfect (1.000) and she on pace to cut her strikeout total in half from her sophomore season. Her three doubles are just one shy of tying a career high and she has already equaled her career high for homers and triples. She had two doubles in a game for the first time in her career and she has tied her personal best hitting streak with a hit in her last six games. Wade’s .708 slugging percentage is 240% higher than her career slugging percentage and she has already drawn a third as many walks in 24 at bats as she did in 137 at bats last season. If she is able to remain productive at the plate, the Tribe will vie for one of the most dangerous line-ups in team history.
GETTING BACK TO THE TOP
Adjusting to Division I softball can be tough for a freshman, even a rookie with Natasha Jacob’s high school credentials. The Texas native had a successful rookie year in 2003 playing spectacular defense and holding her own at the plate. She led off most of the year for FSU and struggled at times trying to set the table as she reached base successfully 32% of the time when starting off an inning. This year the coaching staff has moved Jacob down in the order but she is showing that she deserves the top spot once again having learned from her first season. Although she has yet to take over the No. 1 spot in the batting order, Jacob is showing she is ready for the responsibility. Every time she has led off an inning in 2004, the speedy sophomore has reached safely. She is a perfect 6-for-6 when starting an inning. She is also making things happen once she reaches. Last year she was successful stealing bases 75% of the time, this year she is a perfect 3-for-3. She is also more disciplined at the plate. Last season she struck out 20 times and drew just 16 walks. This season she has more walks than strikeouts showing a new maturity at the plate.
THIRD AND SIX
While FSU is scoring runs in every inning opponents need to be especially careful in the third and sixth. Florida State is outscoring teams 34-0 in those two frames. In every other inning FSU has scored between five and nine runs but half of all this season’s runs have come in the third and sixth. Seminole batters are hitting .320 in the third inning and .422 in the sixth. In general the Tribe’s average rises throughout the game as they adjust to the pitcher. From the third inning on, FSU is hitting at least .316 in each frame with their highest batting average and slugging percentage coming in the seventh inning. Although FSU has scored just seven runs in the seventh they are batting .462 and slugging 1.077. The reason for fewer runs in that inning is that FSU has only batted in the seventh inning four times in 10 games.
WHO’S ON FIRST?
Starters Beth Wade and Lesley Palmer have been playing a little bit of musical chairs on the corners of the Seminole infield. The two switched bases (1st and 3rd) to start a game for the first time this season in FSU’s 9-1 win over Southern Miss. Things were back to normal for the Georgia Southern series but as far as hitting goes, a case can be made for the switch. When Palmer starts at third she has been hitting .200 but in her two games played at first, her average jumped to .600. Wade is experiencing a similar increase but not quite as dramatic. The Colquitt, GA native has been hitting everything this year but statistically the switch seems to be helping her too. At first Wade is hitting a healthy .364 but in two games at third, her average jumped to .500. Well have to keep our eyes open to see if the two flip-flop any more as the season progresses.
IN A PINCH
There has been a lot of talk this year about this squad winning as a team with everybody playing a part. The numbers seem to bear that out. The pitchers are off to a 10-0 start with two no hitters. Florida State’s power hitters have seven home runs already and the team is batting .301 and slugging .480. The base stealers have swiped 16 of 20 bases and the Seminole starters in the outfield have yet to be charged with an error. BillieAnne Gay might not be getting a lot of at bats but her stellar defense behind the plate (see note “Gunned”) has Jessica van der Linden off to the best start of her career. There is another unsung group that is doing their job and more this season. Pinch-hitting is tough. Coming in cold and usually being asked to come through in a pressure situation is a lot to be asked but even the Tribe pinch hitters have contributed to this 10-game win streak. Florida State pinch hitters are batting .444 and Katie Fricke, Kim Hoffer and Carey Galuppi are hitting .571 in that role. That is just one more reason why FSU has started 10-0 and has jumped to No. 10 and No. 11 in the polls.
CAREER WITHOUT FEAR
Knowing Jessica van der Linden you know she doesn’t care about records but if she is concerned about her legacy at Florida State she should be in good shape. The first-team All-American, ACC Player of the Year and top five finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year honors is continuing to etch her name in the career records book at FSU. She already set the career doubles record and is now in the process of blowing that mark away. She is third all-time in walks and fifth for RBIs. She is either in the top 10 or nearing it for batting average, hits and triples. She is also fifth all-time for strikeouts. Van der Linden and former teammate and Cerritos, CA native Brandi Stuart will be the only two Seminoles is the program’s 20-year history to finish their careers on the all-time list for hits, doubles, triples, walks, RBIs and batting average. Van der Linden will be the only player ever to end her career on a career record list in both the pitching and hitting categories.
NOT EARNING THOSE RUNS
While Jessica van der Linden is climbing the career record charts in about seven categories, don’t forget about Casey Hunter. The junior still has two full seasons to rack up the wins, shutouts and strikeouts and she is on pace to be one of FSU’s best from a statistical standpoint. There is no doubt she will be on most of FSU’s career record lists when all is said and done. There is one list though that she is already threatening. With her 0.91 career ERA, Hunter is just outside the top six for the best ERA’s in school history. No pitcher in more than a decade has finished her career on that list. Since the end of the 1994 season, no FSU hurler has managed to work her way onto the career ERA list so it would be quite an accomplishment for Hunter.
BATTING BELOW AVERAGE
There are a lot of things Jessica van der Linden and Casey Hunter are doing well inside the circle this year. Their strikeouts are way up, their walks issued are down and their records are perfect. The one area they are really controlling though is opponent’s batting average. The duo is holding opposing batters to a .105 average, which if the season ended today would be the second lowest opponent batting average in school history. No Seminole team since 1994 has ended the year holding their opponents to an average of .150 or below. Last year Hunter and van der Linden limited opponents to a .155 average, which was the lowest in 11 years.
NO LIMP FOR LUP
Talk about flying under the radar, sophomore Carey Galuppi is off to one heck of a hot but quiet start for FSU. The outfielder has played in seven games and made four starts and is hitting .333 with four hits. In 20 at bats all of last year she had four hits but that isn’t the only category she has already tied or beat. She has doubled her double total from last season already with two in 2004 and she has equaled her two RBIs from 2003 as well. With starter LaShaun Davis still adjusting to the jump form high school to college, Galuppi has stepped up whenever she has been called upon and that also includes hitting .500 as a pinch hitter.
Last year BillieAnne Gay took over catching duties in a battery with All-American Jessica van der Linden and the freshman had an amazing defensive season. Gay fielded .993, threw out over 56% of the players who foolishly tried to steal on her and recorded 33 assists. The scary thing is, she might be even better this year. Van der Linden has already heaped praise on Gay for her performance behind the plate in her no-hitter and two other shutouts. Gay has also started off even hotter than she ended last season by throwing out 60% of would be base stealers and fielding a perfect 1.000.
HOF 4 TAT
Kim Hoffer has been seeing a lot of time running the base paths as a pinch runner this season. The Pensacola JC transfer and Texas native has appeared in eight of Florida State’s 10 games and has scored seven runs, third on the team. She is also a talented infielder that can play any of the four positions around the diamond. That was proven when she was called upon to make the first starts of her career against Georgia Southern. After three-year starter Tatiana George had to leave the Southern Miss game due to a hard slide at second, Hoffer filled in admirably. She then started both games of the GSU series at short while George healed. The sophomore was perfect in six chances and looked like a natural.
2 WITH JU
Florida State has a 2-0 record all time against Jacksonville with all games coming last season at home…the Seminoles won both games by shutout…Jacksonville comes in with a record of 5-6 with a recent win against then-No. 22 Southern Illinois…the dolphins are led by sophomore Melissa Coburn with a .357 batting average and in RBI’s by senior Sonja Cadarette with 10…sophomore Katie Dobson leads the pitching staff in wins and ERA with three and 2.90 respectively…Tatiana George (questionable for the games), Elisa Vasquez and Jessica van der Linden had big games at the plate last year versus JU. The trio each had two RBIs and combined to go 8-for-14…van der Linden had a double and a triple in the DH and George led the team with a 1.333 slugging percentage…van der Linden struck out 10 batters in her seven innings versus the Dolphins and Hunter only pitched four innings as FSU cruised to a win in her start.