Feb. 28, 2004
Columbus, GA –
The 10th-ranked Seminole softball team had one of its best days in recent memory Saturday at the prestigious NFCA Leadoff Classic. After blasting No. 4 Washington 7-1 to start the day, the Seminoles (16-1) came back from a 2-0 deficit and upended their second top five squad beating No. 5 Oklahoma (14-4-1) 3-2 to advance into the NFCA Leadoff Classic semifinals. Florida State will face South Carolina at 11:00 am in one semifinal with Georgia and LSU battling on the other side of the bracket.
First team All-American Jessica van der Linden once again was the hero for Florida State. The player of the year candidate not only went 2-for-4 with three RBIs including a walk off double in the bottom of the seventh but she also came in to relieve Casey Hunter and picked up her third win of the tournament. It was her second victory of the day versus a top five team and she improved to 9-1 on the season with a 0.50 ERA. The senior drove in all three of FSU runs in the game.
“I am really proud of the way this team fought back today versus Oklahoma,” said head coach JoAnne Graf. “These kids have been waiting for an opportunity to test themselves against the best teams in the nation and they have done that so far. We will see another great team tomorrow in South Carolina but we will be ready to play.”
Florida State went to work on Oklahoma starter Nicole Denes (10-4) in the second inning. Back-to-back singles by Elisa Vasquez and Lesley Palmer and a Tatiana George sac put runners on second and third with one out. Denes got Carly Brieske to pop out and then Beth Wade drove a deep fly to the fence but Oklahoma left fielder Jessica Leslie crashed through the fence after hauling the ball in. The shot was just inches short of being Wade’s third homer of the weekend.
Casey Hunter, who started the game, found herself in a little bit of trouble in the third walking two of the first three batters she faced. The junior right-hander recorded the second out but both runners advanced a base on the ground out to first. Hunter issued her third free pass of the frame to load the bases and bring up one of OU’s top hitters in Christina Enea. The first baseman blooped a single into center field that scored two runs and put FSU behind for just the second time all tournament.
In the bottom of the third FSU looked to answer. Designated player Katie Fricke led off with a walk on four straight pitches. Veronica Wootson then dropped down a sacrifice bunt but beat out the play at first to put two on with no outs. Natasha Jacob’s slap sacrifice moved the runners up a base for van der Linden. The All-American came through with a big hit once again as her single to right field tied the game at 2-2.
Hunter cruised into the fifth inning before a one out hit by OU’s number nine hitter signaled the end of her day. The junior went 4 1/3 innings, struck out six batters, allowed just two hits and walked just three. That brought van der Linden in and she closed out the Sooners threat with a foul out and her first K of the game.
In the bottom of the fifth, Wootson sent a fly ball into center that was misjudged by the Oklahoma outfielder and resulted in a double for the freshman. Jacob then singled and advanced to second on a throw home but Wootson held up putting runners on second and third. Denes got a huge out when she got van der Linden watching strike three on an outside pitch. With two down Vasquez came up looking to add to her team-leading RBI total. The senior was unable to come through as she swung through the third strike and the game moved to the sixth still deadlocked at 2-2.
The Sooners took a shot at breaking the tie in the sixth. Van der Linden issued a leadoff walk and then Jamie Fox dropped in a double into right center to put runners on second and third with one down. Jessica Leslie drew a walk to load the bases putting the potential winning run just 60 feet away. The senior southpaw got the second out of the inning via the K and then closed the door on the OU rally by fanning another Sooner batter.
Fricke tried to get FSU going in the bottom of the seventh as she sent a one-out single through the left side. Denes got Wootson on a controversial strike three call as the ball seemed to be fouled off but the umpires reversed their call and said she swung and missed then the ball hit off her hand. Natasha Jacob then drew a walk bringing up van der Linden with a chance to win the game for FSU. The senior laced the 46th double of her career deep to the warning track plating Fricke and sending FSU on in the championship bracket.
Florida State returns to action in the tournament semifinals at 11:00 am Sunday morning. The Seminoles will play South Carolina (11-1) for the right to play for the NFCA Leadoff Classic Championship. The Seminoles have never won the prestigious tournament title and are 18-19 all time versus the 20th-ranked Gamecocks. USC has also won the last two in a row in the series. Live stats will be available for the contest at the official athletic website for FSU at www.seminoles.com.