April 14, 2004 - by
No. 2 Softball Hosts Florida A&M Tonight At 6:00 p.m.

April 14, 2004

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The NCAA released softball statistics for the first time this week and Florida State is in the midst of a banner year. The Tribe is ranked in the top 30 for every team statistical category and either No. 1 or No. 2 in two of the five categories. FSU leads the nation in ERA (0.48) and is second in the nation in winning percentage (.917). The Tribe is the only team in the country in the top two in those two categories. FSU’s staff is the only one in the nation with an ERA below 0.50 and one of just four teams with a staff ERA below 1.00. The Seminoles join unanimous No. 1 Arizona as one of just two teams in the country with a winning percentage above .900. FSU is 10th in the NCAA is scoring (5.88), 16th in the nation in batting average (.305) and 29th in fielding percentage (.967). Florida State is one of only three teams in the country in the top 10 for ERA, winning percentage and scoring (Arizona & UL Lafayette) . The Seminoles aren’t only dominating as a team. Seminole players are nationally ranked in five different NCAA categories. Jessica van der Linden is currently second in the nation in ERA and is just 0.01 away from first place. She is also fifth in the nation in strikeouts and 14th in the country in wins. van der Linden and UL-Lafayette’s Brooke Mitchell are the only two players in America in the top 15 for wins, strikeouts and ERA. For the second year in a row no player in the NCAA has a lower ERA and higher batting average than van der Linden. Casey Hunter is holding up her end of the bargain as well as she is ranked fifth in the NCAA in wins and 12th in the country in ERA. Florida State is the only school in America to have two pitchers in the top 15 for wins and ERA. Veronica Wootson is continuing to state her case for ACC Rookie of the Year honors as she appears among the national leaders in two categories. The freshman is 14th in the nation in runs per game (1.02) and 21st in the nation in triples per game (0.13) . With Wootson, van der Linden and Hunter each appearing in two or more categories, FSU joins Arizona and USF as the only three schools in Division I with three players appearing among the national rankings in two or more categories.

Jessica van der Linden  ERA          2ND
Jessica van der Linden  Strikeouts   5th
Jessica van der Linden  Wins         14th
Casey Hunter            Wins         5th
Casey Hunter            ERA          12th
Veronica Wootson        Runs         14th
Veronica Wootson        Triples      21st
Florida State           ERA          1st
Florida State           Winning Pct  2nd
Florida State           Scoring      10th
Florida State           Batting Avg  16th
Florida State           Fielding Pct.29th

When you have been playing fastpitch softball for 21 years and had the kind of success that Florida State has enjoyed, it is difficult to break any new ground or set new records but the 2004 team found a way to set a new mark today. For the first time in program history, the Seminoles are ranked second in the nation in a fastpitch softball poll. Florida State jumped UCLA and moved into the No. 2 slot in the latest ESPN.COM/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll. The ranking is a new all-time high for FSU in fastpitch softball. Florida State has won 12 straight games and 25 of its last 26 contests. Last week FSU went 4-0 as they snapped UCF’s 15-game winning streak and defeated a top 25 team for the 10th time this season when they shutout No. 12 Florida 2-0. The wins impressed pollsters enough to move FSU up in the rankings for the third straight week.

Freshman Veronica Wootson came to FSU with arguably bigger shoes to fill than any freshman in program history. The Californian was being asked to step in to a position occupied by two-time All-America Brandi Stuart. While nobody expected her to do everything that made Stuart one of the greatest FSU softball players ever, the comparisons were inevitable. They are both southern California kids. They both started at second base from the first day of their careers. They both had speed and power. Despite the similarities nobody came into 2004 expecting Wootson to do what she has done and she might end up doing something Stuart didn’t do…win ACC Rookie of the Year. Working out of the lead-off spot, Wootson has reached base 78 times and of those 78 times she has come around to score 49 runs, an amazing 63% of the time. She has scored a run in 35 of 48 games and she has 27 games in which she has a hit and a run scored. Wootson has already tied the freshman home run record with five and she has bested almost every stat from Stuart’s inaugural season at second. In 41 less at bats, Wootson has the same number of triples as Stuart did in the entire 2000 season but she has eclipsed Stuart’s mark for runs, doubles and home runs while having a higher batting average, slugging percentage and fielding percentage. Wootson is just 13 bases away from surpassing Stuart’s total base total as well. While she has nowhere near the 42 bases Stuart swiped her rookie season, Wootson is still second on the team with 12 steals. Wootson isn’t only stacking up with the best ever at FSU, she is stacking up against the nation’s best this year. The freshman is 14th in the nation in runs per game (1.02) and 21st in the nation in triples per game (0.13) .

	Wootson	Stuart
AB	161	233
Avg.	.348	.339
Runs	49	39
Hits	56	79
2B	8	6
3B	6	6
HR	5	2
RBI	24	36
TB	91	103
SLG %	.565	.442
BB	10	17
K	27	34
OB%	.387	.382
Steals	12	42
FLD %	.959	.952

When Casey Hunter took the hill versus UCF in game one of a twin bill she had not allowed an earned run 84 1/3 innings and she had not allowed any run in 21 2/3 innings. The junior made it through the first unscathed but gave up a leadoff single in the second before leaving the game due to heat related illness. The run eventually came around to score ending the junior’s earned run streak at 85 1/3 innings and her scoreless streak at 22 2/3 innings. The 85 1/3-inning streak was by far the longest streak of her career without allowing an earned run but last season she went more than 39 innings at one point without allowing any kind of run, which was a career best for the Illinois native.

There is no questioning how big Veronica Wootson’s two home runs in the UCF series were. The freshman won both games with the long ball. Her ninth inning blast put FSU up in a 1-1 game and her two-run shot in game two ended up being the difference in the Seminoles’ 3-2 win. Part of the reason Wootson picked up her first ever ACC honors was the two big blasts she hit Saturday. The round trippers were also big because they gave her five on the season and she has now moved into a tie for the freshman home run record. Wootson tied Leslie Barton who set the record in 1990 and that mark has stood for over 13 years. The California native will have nine regular season games and the postseason to try and set a new FSU record. If she is able to homer versus FAMU Wednesday, she will be the first Seminole to homer in three straight games since Wendy Braye did it in 1997.

Florida State will have a chance to match a season-long winning streak versus Florida A&M Wednesday evening. The Seminoles have won 12 straight games and with a win over the Rattlerettes they will have matched the 13-game streak they posted just before starting this current run. FSU has already posted winning streaks of 11, 12 and 13 games this year. Last season the Seminoles entered NCAA play on a 27-game roll and ended up going 0-2 at NCAA Regionals. This year FSU has spread its four losses out pretty evenly over the season except for a 2-2 stretch in the middle of the year. If FSU happens to win out, they will once again enter NCAA Tournament play on a 27-game streak, which may not be such a good omen after what happened in 2003.

Ask any coach and they will tell you pitching and defense wins softball games and that point is pretty obvious when you look at what FSU has done versus top 25 opponents. The Seminoles are 10-3 versus ranked teams and most of that success is due to pitching and defense. Florida State pitchers have an amazing 0.51 ERA versus ranked opponents including five shutouts. The Tribe staff has a strikeout to walk ratio of 5:1 versus Top 25 teams and opposing batters are hitting just .145 against Casey Hunter and Jessica van der Linden. The two Seminole hurlers have also been aided by amazing defensive work. FSU is fielding .977 this year but that number is even higher versus ranked opponents. Florida State has committed just six errors in 383 chances for a stellar fielding percentage of .984. The play of the Seminole defense and pitching staff has been crucial since FSU is batting 93 points lower versus the nation’s top pitchers.

Florida State’s .977 fielding percentage is 29th in the nation and is currently .006 behind the all-time best single season fielding percentage in FSU history. The top mark (.983) was set in 1995 and only one team since then has finished the year with a percentage at .970 or above and that was the 1998 squad (.970). What is most amazing about this team’s .977 mark is that the Tribe has started a rookie at second base (Veronica Wootson) for all 48 games. Making it even more improbable is the fact that starting shortstop Tatiana George missed 24 games and starting third baseman Lesley Palmer has missed the last four starts due to a torn ACL. Thankfully first-year player Kim Hoffer has stepped in and filled both positions. The Texas native and junior college transfer played all 24 games at short for George and has now moved to third to replace Palmer. Her fielding percentage may be below .900 but considering how she has stepped in and been forced into a starting role after seeing action in just six DI softball games in her entire career is pretty remarkable. What makes her play even more amazing is that she spent the entire fall in a cast as she recovered from two broken bones in her arm and didn’t even practice until the spring. It hasn’t just been Hoffer’s defense that has been a huge plus. The sophomore has one of the most discerning eyes at the plate and is just two walks off the team lead despite almost 50 fewer at bats. Her .448 on base percentage is also fourth-best on the squad. For a player that was expected to play a small role in her first season of DI softball, Hoffer has turned out to be an unsung hero for the second-ranked Seminoles.

With two wins over UCF, Florida State extended its winning streak to 12 games and is now just one win away from equaling a season high. Although it was close, the FSU streak continued due to a 2-1 extra inning win over the Golden Knights. The loss to FSU ended UCF’s 15-game winning streak, which was the longest in the Atlantic Sun this season. The streak was not the longest in Golden Knight history though. That mark was set in their inaugural season when they won 22 straight games before Stetson broke up the roll.

Even for a player as good as Jessica van der Linden, there is a progression to her career. The All-America and two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year finalist has been an absolute terror in the circle this season and she recently set another personal best showing how far she has actually come this year. On top of new personal bests for shutouts, complete games and saves and with her win over UCF she set a new personal high with her 19th victory of the season. This is the fourth straight year the van der Linden has increased her win total. van der Linden is just the second Seminole pitcher ever to pitch for four years and increase her win total each and every season. The only other FSU player to ever do that was 1991 All-American Christy Larsen (1988-1991).

For the second year in a row, Seminole softball All-American Jessica van der Linden has been named a finalist for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year award. The senior from Cerritos, CA made it into the top 10 last season and she is now one of 25 players being considered for the honor in 2004. van der Linden is one of just eight players to make the top 25 the last two seasons. The Amateur Softball Association, the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States, and USA Softball announced the 25 finalists for the 2004 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award Wednesday. The award, which is considered the Heisman Trophy in women’s collegiate softball and is the only national player of the year award, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country. The list will be reduced to ten players on April 28 and three finalists will be announced May 11. The winner of the 2004 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award will be announced May 26 at the opening ceremonies of the NCAA College World Series in Oklahoma City, OK. The winner will be recognized and presented with the Player of the Year trophy during the ASA National Council Meeting in Mobile, Alabama, in November.

Florida State is currently second in the nation with a .917 winning percentage and that is the loftiest winning percentage ever for an FSU team this late into a season. This year’s squad is making a run at the 1984 and 1992 teams that share the FSU record for top winning percentage at .875. The 2004 squad needs to go 12-3 down the stretch to finish the regular season with a winning percentage above .875 and then they would need to at least hold their own in the NCAA Tournament.

Casey Hunter might be the most effective reptile wrangler this side of Steve Irwin. The junior hurler once again corralled the Florida Gators as she shutdown the UF offense in FSU’s 2-0 win. The shutout victory was Hunter’s second straight blanking of Florida. Last season she went down to Gainesville and handcuffed the Gators for seven innings in a 5-0 win. Hunter is the only Florida State pitcher to ever shutout UF and she has now done it twice in her career and in back-to-back starts. She has now gone 19 consecutive innings versus Florida without allowing a run to score. She also set a new FSU record for K’s in a game against the Gators with 11. In the UF series, Hunter now owns the top marks for fewest runs in a game, fewest earned runs in a game, the most strikeouts and fewest hits allowed.

Florida A&M: Wednesday night’s game at the Seminole Softball Complex is the fifth and final regular season meeting between the teams. FSU has won the first four meetings by a combined score of 41-1. The Tribe has now won 15 straight against the Rattlerettes. FSU is hitting .408 this season versus FAMU and the pitching staff has yet to allow an earned run.

Virginia: This is the first meeting between the teams since FSU beat the Cavaliers in last season’s ACC Championship final. The Cavaliers have wins over three ranked teams already this year (No. 12 Fresno State, No. 23 Pacific and No. 25 Georgia Tech). The last time FSU traveled to UVA, the Seminoles left with 4-0 and 6-3 wins.

Maryland: The Terps still have four games on the slate before welcoming FSU to its new park Sunday. The last time the Tribe traveled to UMD, rain caused the games to be cancelled and FSU never played on the Terps’ new field. Maryland has played three ranked teams in 2004 and has been shutout in each game.

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