May 22, 2004
Tallahassee, FL –
Saturday’s winner’s bracket game at the NCAA Region 4 Tournament between No. 4 FSU and No. 12 Oregon (40-20) had it all. There was a big inning, a big comeback, high drama and a bases loaded walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning as FSU (60-9) downed the Ducks 5-4. Veronica Wootson recorded the game-winning hit and Jessica van der Linden (27-6) pitched nine scoreless innings in relief as the Seminoles moved into a regional championship game for the fourth time in the last five years.
The Seminoles, whose 60th win is the third-most in school history and the most in the nation, fell down early as Oregon jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Tribe used a three run inning of its own to later tie the game and after leaving two runners on base in the ninth and three on base in the 11th, Wootson’s RBI single sent FSU into the regional championship game. Wootson went 3-for-5 on the day with three RBIs including two that tied the game and the one that won the contest.
“I think you saw just an unbelievable ball game,” said FSU head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. “Both teams played well. Our kids showed a lot of heart coming back from being behind four runs, just keeping after it even after we missed some opportunities in the game. That really showed a lot of heart and I’m glad we don’t have to play again tonight.”
“First of all, congratulations to Florida State. They played great,” said Oregon head coach Kathy Arendsen. “They came from behind. They put relentless pressure on us. I thought we made some incredible stands. Finally, we just got broken down after awhile. They are a great team. (Jessica) van der Linden did a super job. They came up with the hits when they needed them. We played a great game and we played a great team. To me it was an epic battle that one team was going to win, and it was going to be a disappointment to the other team. It could’ve easily been us. ”
van der Linden once again showed why she is a finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year honors. After starter Casey Hunter surrendered four runs in just three innings, van der Linden relieved her with one batter on base in the top of the fourth. She went on to allow just two hits, walk two batters and strike out 11 Oregon batters. It was the seventh time in her last ten appearances that she has fanned double digit batters and it is the 18th time she has done it in 37 appearances.
The senior also got the job done at the plate when the Ducks allowed her. She went 2-for-4 with an RBI but was walked intentionally twice in extra innings with runners in scoring position. Her third-inning RBI tied a single season record as she now has 53 on the year.
“I think van der Linden is very good; she’s an all-American,” said Arendsen. “She is player of the year and all those other things for a reason. She’s excellent. I don’t think we made a lot of adjustments very well, but give her a lot of credit. They made some good defensive plays, and dog-gone it, she just made some good pitches.”
“We had it in our mind that if either pitcher, whichever game they start, if they got in trouble early we’re going to bring the other one in because we have great confidence in both of them,” said Graf. “It just seemed like they were really hitting Casey (Hunter) pretty well, so once they got up, we decided even down four runs, we still, with our hitters, had a chance to win the game. We weren’t giving up on the game at that point at all. That’s why we made the decision to bring Jess (van der Linden) in. A different kind of pitcher, hopefully could keep them a little off balanced.”
A hit by Beth Boskovich and a controversial call put the Ducks in good position in the third in what was the beginning of the end for Hunter. With one away and a runner on first, Goddell pooped a ball up between short and the pitcher. Tatiana George made a diving grab, which she thought was good for the second out. The umpire ruled it was trapped putting runners on first and second for Ashley Richards, UO’s leading hitter. The call ended up hurting FSU as Richard’s doubled to left field plating two runs and putting the Ducks in front 2-0. Jenn Poore then added to the Oregon lead as her single to right scored Richards with the third run of the game. The inning looked like it was over on a grounder to short but the Seminoles’ fourth error of the weekend cost them a run this time as Oregon went up 4-0.
The Seminoles looked to answer back in the bottom of the third against Duck starter Ani Nyhus. LaShaun Davis started the frame with a walk and Wootson followed with a base knock up the middle putting runners on first and second with nobody away. Davis got caught off the bag on a bunt and run for the first out before Wootson moved up on the pick off and then got to third on a wild pitch. Natasha Jacob’s walk put runners on the corners for van der Linden, the Tribe’s leading hitter and RBI producer. With the USA Softball Player of the Year finalist at the plate Oregon went to the bullpen and made a pitching change bringing in Amy Harris. The first pitch she threw to van der Linden was blooped into right field scoring Wootson and putting runners on first and second with still just one out. Harris got Lesley Palmer swinging at strike three for the second out and then she got Elisa Vasquez swinging also as she finished off the Seminoles in the third.
As soon as Oregon led off the fourth with a hit, Hunter was pulled in favor of van der Linden as the Tribe looked to pull out all the stops to stay in the winner’s bracket. A sacrifice moved the runner, Breanne Sabol, to second then as walk to Boskovich put two runners aboard for Goddell. After a sac moved both runners into scoring position Richards stepped in looking to add to her two RBIs already in the game. van der Linden got the leading Duck hitter to pop out to Wootson behind first to end the inning and keep FSU within striking distance.
After van der Linden set the Ducks’ 3-4-5 hitters down in order in the top of the fifth, Davis led off the home half with an infield single to first. Wootson recorded the first out on a fielder’s choice and Jacob then singled into center field putting runners on first and second with just one away for van der Linden. The senior was unable to get on base though as she grounded out to Harris while moving the runners up a base in the process. Harris then worked her way out of another jam as she got Palmer swinging at strike three.
FSU put another base runner on in the sixth as George drew a one-out walk. An error on the Duck shortstop then put two Seminoles on with pinch hitter Katie Fricke coming up to the plate. Fricke was hit in the leg loading the bases as the Tribe once again looked for the big hit that has eluded them all afternoon. Harris uncorked a wild pitch that moved both runners up and allowed George to come home and cut the lead to 4-2. Oregon re-entered Nyhus who was pulled in the third to try and set down the Seminole uprising. The Oregon hurler couldn’t dig herself out of the 2-0 hole she inherited and ended up walking Davis to load the bases for Wootson who was hitting .357 with the bases loaded coming into the game. The freshman delivered a single through the left side scoring two runs and tying the game but Davis was thrown out at third for the second out of the frame. Wootson, who advanced to second on the throw then swiped third with Jacob at the plate versus new UO pitcher Anissa Meashintubby (11-4). The hurler got the ground ball out to end the inning.
van der Linden set the Ducks’ 1-2-3 hitters down in order as she ended the frame with Richards looking at strike three setting the stage for the bottom of the seventh where she led off the inning with another hit, this one up the middle. It was her fifth hit of the tournament and the second of the day. Palmer tried to sacrifice the runner but fouled two pitches off before watching three straight balls. Meashintubby got Palmer to ground into a fielder’s choice wiping van der Linden off the bases. Vasquez was called out on an attempted sacrifice as the ball hit her on her way to first and George then struck out to move the game into extra innings.
Oregon led off the eighth with an infield single but FSU cut down the lead runner on an attempted to sacrifice for the first out. van der Linden then recorded her fourth K of the day for out number two before a pop out to short ended the top of the eighth.
Another FSU error put the Oregon leadoff runner on base in the top of the ninth as Sabol reached on an errant throw that allowed her to move to second. A passed ball moved the potential winning run 60 feet from home. A walk to the number nine hitter put runners on the corners for the top of the UO line-up. Boskovich recorded the first out when she got caught watching strike three. After a stolen base put both runners in scoring position, a missed suicide squeeze allowed Vasquez to cut down the runner at third for the second out of the inning. She then ended the threat with her sixth K of the inning to move to the home half of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, FSU sent its first three hitters to the plate. The trio came into the inning owning five of FSU’s seven hits in the game. Wootson got on via a walk and moved to second on a passed ball. Jacob popped out to second on a slap hit bringing up van der Linden and her 53 RBIs. The Ducks wanted no part of the All-American intentionally walking her and bringing up Palmer. The junior grounded to short but the ball was booted and Wootson was sent home from third on the play. Oregon nailed her trying to score and end the game. Meashintubby then ended the rally with her fourth K of the game.
The Ducks went down in the tenth in order thanks to two more van der Linden K’s as she raised her total to eight in seven innings. The Seminoles followed with a 1-2-3 winning of their own as the game moved into the 11th.
Oregon started the top of the inning striking out for the ninth time versus van der Linden before a single put a runner on at first. A fly out to right and the hurler’s 10th K brought the top of the 11th to a close.
Davis started the home half of the 11th with a hit as she singled on a chopper just a couple feet in front of the plate. Wootson’s sacrifice bunt moved Davis to second before an error at short on a Jacob hopper put runners on the corners with one away. van der Linden was intentionally walked for the second straight time to load the bases as FSU once again had the winning run just 60 feet from home. Meashintubby once again pulled a Houdini act as she struck out Palmer and got Vasquez to ground out as the Tribe stranded its 13th base runner of the afternoon.
The third error of the day for FSU allowed Oregon to put a lead off runner on base to start the 12th inning. A line out and a sacrifice bunt put a runner on second with two away but the threat came to an end when Richards got called out watching strike three.
Tatiana George led off the 12th with a single over third and Wade reached on a fielder’s choice but the Ducks were unable to put George out at second. An error loaded the bases with nobody out as FSU looked to close out the game once again. Davis’ fielder’s choice kept the bases loaded but also kept the game tied as Oregon recorded the force out at home. That opened the door for Wootson who chopped a shot over short to score the game-winner. It was her sixth of the season and the second-most on the team behind van der Linden’s 19.
“It was stressful. I went up there and I wasn’t trying to force anything. I was relaxed and I knew I had a job to do and I wanted to get it done regardless of what I did,” said Wootson. “I wanted this game, not only for myself but for my team. I put my heart into this game, honestly.”
Florida State will go after a berth in the College World Series and the 2004 NCAA Region 4 title tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. The Tribe’s opponent has yet to be determined but whoever makes it to the championship will need to beat FSU twice to keep the Seminoles from heading to Oklahoma City for the second time in the last three years.
For more information on the 2004 FSU softball team or the 2004 NCAA Tallahassee Regional, including tickets, please log on to the official athletic website of Florida State University at www.seminoles.com.