TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Given that they hadn’t lost so much as a single game in more than a month, it’s easy to forget that the Florida State Seminoles have been in this situation before.
Plenty of times, in fact.
When the Seminoles take the field Friday in Game 2 of the NCAA Tallahassee Super Regional, they’ll do so with the knowledge that it could be the last game of their 2019 campaign.
Oklahoma State made sure of that with a 3-1, extra-innings victory at JoAnne Graf Field on Thursday.
It made for a jarring reminder that, no matter what happened in the weeks and months before, things can happen awfully quickly in late May. Two quick missteps, and a team’s postseason can be over before it effectively starts. Even the reigning national champions aren’t immune to it.
These particular reigning champions, though, are plenty aware of that fact. Even comfortable with it playing – and winning – six elimination games in last year’s NCAA tournament.
That includes a loss to LSU in Game 1 of a Super Regional.
So while the Seminoles understand the gravity of their situation, they’re also not hitting the panic button, either.
“We definitely have a lot of veterans that have been in this situation,” FSU junior Dani Morgan said. “And that’s going to give us a lot of comfort (Friday), knowing that we’ve been there before, and we can do it again.”
Both FSU coach Lonni Alameda and Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski agreed with that last point. Neither believes that the series is over.
But if the Seminoles are going to flip the script, beat the Cowgirls twice and advance to the Women’s College World Series, they’re going to have do better against ace pitcher Samantha Show.
Show, also one of the Cowgirls’ top hitters, has made most of her headlines this year by flipping her bat in exaggerated fashion after belting one of her 18 home runs.
She didn’t get a chance at that on Thursday, but, more importantly, she made sure the Seminoles didn’t either.
After a bit of an uneven start, Show was simply masterful in the pitcher’s circle and held the FSU offense down to a level rarely seen this season.
The senior surrendered only five hits, issued just one walk and, most crucially, retired the last 18 FSU batters she faced.
And, as Gajewski pointed out after the game, had Show better handled a grounder that went her way, the Seminoles might not have scored at all.
“I thought she got stronger as the game went on,” Gajewski said.
She also added to her repertoire.
Gajewski said that the Cowgirls purposefully didn’t call for Show to throw any changeups in the early innings in hopes of catching the Seminoles off-balance with at as the game wore on.
Safe to say that it did.
With Show mixing speeds and throwing three different pitches for strikes, the Seminoles often found themselves guessing at that plate and, more often than not, pounding pitches into the dirt for easy putouts.
“I had them guessing,” Show said. “When you get hitters to guess, the game is easier as a pitcher.”
“I think if you have a pitcher who can throw three pitches and three different speeds, it gives the ability to make a game plan,” Alameda added. “I think she tucked the rise ball away earlier, we were hitting and making some adjustments with that, and then she started throwing the drop ball and we started to ground out quite a bit. And then she brought the change-up late which messes with your game-plan a bit.”
Whether Show can keep the Seminoles off-kilter to that same degree will likely determine the series. Whether Gajewski will start Show on Friday or hold her for a potential Game 3 remains to be seen, but, either way, the Seminoles will likely have to go through her in order to reach Oklahoma City.
Recent history suggests that they might.
Two years ago, the Seminoles were knocked out of a Super Regional thanks in large part to LSU ace Allie Walljasper, who beat FSU in Game 2 and played a key role in winning the decisive Game 3.
In 2018, Walljasper threatened to do it again, putting the Seminoles on the brink of elimination by doing just enough to win Game 1.
But after surviving the second game, FSU finally broke through and topped Walljasper in Game 3 to advance to the WCWS.
The Seminoles will hope for a quicker learning curve this time around.
“At this point in time, it’s about making adjustments and being able to get the right hits at the right time,” Alameda said. “… We’re generally pretty good at making in-game adjustments.”
And, more often than not, those adjustments have worked.
Which is why, despite wearing a smile in his post-game press conference, OSU’s Gajewski knows his team’s job is far from done.
“FSU has a very proud program and a team that knows how to win,” he said. “So I do not think that they are worried.”