TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – At this point in the season, the Florida State softball team hardly needs any extra motivation.
But it has some anyway.
The Seminoles, 50-10 and seeded sixth in the NCAA tournament, are set to host a Super Regional round this weekend at JoAnne Graf Field, and they sit just two wins away from the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Standing in their way is the LSU Tigers.
And if that sounds familiar, it should.
Almost one year ago to the day, the Seminoles were preparing to take on LSU in the Super Regional.
What followed was a sequence that coach Lonni Alameda, star third baseman Jessie Warren and ace pitcher Kylee Hanson – who wasn’t even at FSU at the time – all described as “heartbreaking.”
The Seminoles took Game 1 of the best-of-three series, 3-1. But bolstered by dominant pitching and just enough offense, the Tigers claimed the next two.
Watching LSU celebrate on their home field wasn’t an easy sight to forget. Not for a team that had won 55 games, at one point earned a No. 1 national ranking and had serious designs on a national-title run.
“We literally had to pull them off the field last year (after the final game),” Alameda said. “It was one of the most heartbreaking coaching staff moments – (going) from the field to the locker room. … We knew it. The stars were aligned.
“How do you get over that?”
But getting another crack at the team that broke their hearts is a good place to start.
The Seminoles and 11th-ranked Tigers (44-15) are set to meet again for another three-game series that begins Friday at 7 p.m.
And whereas last year’s teams didn’t know much about each other, this year’s versions know plenty.
“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t get excited about this matchup again,” Alameda said. “…Super Regionals now are rivalries. We’re creating that rivalry.”
Added LSU coach Beth Torina: “We know their players, we know their team. I think it changes the way we felt last year.”
Alameda, though, insists that this year’s Seminoles, despite having many familiar faces, have separated themselves from the ones that suffered that disappointment.
While the results have been largely the same – FSU has won 50 games for the third straight season and recently took home an fifth consecutive ACC tournament crown – it took a while for them to build their collective identity, and the vibe inside the locker room has changed as a result.
Alameda acknowledged as much when she coined this year’s official team hashtag. Always one to find a banner under which her players can unite, previous hashtags have included a nod to fundamentals — “#RKD” (Right Knee Down) and “#SPARK,” which came about after completing “The Program,” a leadership development organization led by former members of the U.S. armed forces.
This year’s hashtag? “#IDK”
“I don’t know,” Alameda said.
At least she didn’t at the start of the season.
“We are completely different,” Alameda said. “We are better and stronger. You get stronger from your experiences. This team had a turning point. They are who they are. They embrace it.”
On a more tangible level, the Seminoles have at least one key player with whom the Tigers aren’t familiar.
That would be Hanson, the former Florida Atlantic standout who has been a revelation for the Seminoles this year as they’ve adjusted to life without star pitcher Jessica Burroughs.
Hanson has a 27-4 record, a 1.00 earned-run average and recently picked up ACC pitcher of the year honors.
More than that, though, Hanson a desire to make a difference for Florida State in her one and only tournament run in garnet and gold.
“It’s been a dream,” Hanson said of her time in Tallahassee. “I only get one year at this, (and) it’s been nothing short of amazing. No matter where this season takes us, or where it ends, I will have zero regrets.”
Still, Oklahoma City is the goal.
The Seminoles have been there twice during the previous four seasons, during which time they’ve established themselves as one the country’s elite programs.
The only thing left is get there and win.
And if they can get one back on LSU in the process, that’s just fine, too.
“We definitely kept last year on our hats for a while,” Warren said. “But there comes a time when you’ve got to move on … We are in a good, tight spot now. I’m excited.”