March 24, 2004 - by
No. 4 Softball Hosts FIU Doubleheader This Thursday At 5:00

March 24, 2004

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While softball teams in the east, especially the southeast, are gaining ground on west coast squads, the nation’s best softball is still played out west and especially in California. Even though half of this week’s Softball top 10 is from the southeast (FSU, LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana at Lafayette) ten west coast or Pac-10 teams are currently ranked. It is the strongest region in the nation from top to bottom when it comes to collegiate softball but FSU is continuing to show it can play with the big boys. With it’s wins over Arizona State, Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton at the Kia Klassic the 2004 Tribe squad set the single season school record for the most wins over west coast or Pac-10 teams with four (FSU beat Washington earlier in the season). Only once before 2004 has FSU even defeated more than two west coast teams in a season and that came in 2001 when the Tribe downed Cal, UC Riverside and San Diego State. Since 2000, FSU has now recorded 12 wins over teams from the west coast or Pac-10 teams. What makes this year’s four wins so special is they include two victories versus Pac-10 teams. This is just the second time in FSU’s 20 years of fast pitch softball that the Tribe has recorded two Pac-10 wins in one season. The last time FSU accomplished that feat was 2002 when the Tribe beat Washington in the regular season and then upset No. 1 UCLA in the opening game of the College World Series.

Considering the fact that FSU came into 2004 7-39 all-time versus Pac-10 teams, going 2-0 versus the mighty conference in 2004 is pretty impressive if you just left it at that but there is more. Both wins versus the Pac-10 (Washington and Arizona State) came via two-hitters by Casey Hunter and Jessica van der Linden. That is especially impressive when you consider that Washington is averaging 7.6 hits per game and ASU is averaging 7.5 per game. Hunter’s shutout of the Sun Devils was just the fifth time ASU was held without a run in 44 games this season and Washington has been held to just one run or less only five times in its 28 games.

With her RBI versus Fresno State, Elisa Vasquez recorded the 90th RBI of her career. She is closing in on some pretty special company. With just 10 more RBIs Vasquez will become just the ninth Seminole ever to record 100 RBIs in her career. If Vasquez is able to record 25 more RBI’s this season, she will move into the top five where three of the other members of the top five will have been former teammates of the catcher. Brandi Stuart, Kimmy Carter and Jessica van der Linden are already the top three in that category and with Vasquez, all four played on the 2001 team. Vasquez’s climb to the 100-RBI club is really special because the senior didn’t get that many at bats as a freshman and had just 23 RBIs coming into her junior year. She now has 67 in the last 94 games.

Veronica Wootson is not only pushing for ACC Rookie of the Year honors but the freshman phenom is also making a case for All-ACC honors and possibly All-American honors as well. It is amazing what the California native is doing in her first season at FSU. The Tribe’s leadoff hitter really holds the key to the FSU offense. Wootson is the only starter on the team that is batting over .300 with the bases empty and she is reaching safely when leading off an inning 46% of the time. She has been on base in 32 of FSU’s 39 games this year and when she gets on she scores. The freshman leads the team with 40 runs scored, which already gives her more runs scored than six other players who lead the team for an entire season. She is just two runs away from besting Brandi Stuart’s team-leading total of 41 from last season. The speedy freshman has a real shot at setting a new single season record. The current record holder is FSU Hall of Famer Shamalene Wilson who scored 72 times in 1996.

She is leading FSU in runs scored (40), hits (49), triples (5) and total bases (76). She is second on the team in batting average (.368), slugging percentage (.571), doubles (8) and steals (8). She is also tearing up the ACC where she leads the conference in both hits, triples and runs scored and is second in total bases. She is also second amongst all FSU infielders in fielding percentage. It has been a long time since FSU had a true freshman excelling in so many areas from speed to power to defense and she is doing it all despite being thrust into a starting spot that was filled by FSU great Brandi Stuart for the previous four years.

Very few people around Tallahassee are complaining about FSU’s 35-4 record. While the Tribe coaching staff never wants to lose, they can’t be too disappointed. Every one of FSU’s four losses has been by just one run and three came to ranked teams, two of which are in the top 10. Of the three FSU teams that have started 35-4 or better, only the 2004 squad has lost every game by just one run. The Seminoles were shutout in two of those four losses. After being shutout just once in 57 games last season, the Tribe has now been shutout just three times in the last 98 games. The fewest times FSU was ever shutout in a season was once in 2003 and 1986. The most times an FSU team was blanked in one year was 12 in 1999.

Jessica van der Linden sat out the opening game of the Kia Klassic versus Arizona State due to what was believed to be stomach flu. Without their first team All-American the Seminoles were still able to pull out a 1-0 win over a top 25 team, which is pretty remarkable since Elisa Vasquez was the only current FSU starter to play a game the last time van der Linden wasn’t in the starting line-up. The missed start broke a streak of 180 consecutive starts for van der Linden and it was the first time she missed a game in her career, which covered 236 consecutive games. The missed start didn’t jeopardize a career record for van der Linden since Brandi Stuart owns the consecutive starts record with 295 but it was an amazing run for the senior. The fact that van der Linden started 180 straight games is remarkable when you consider what she goes through in a typical doubleheader. She starts game one in the outfield and bats. Starting in the fifth inning she begins warming up in the bullpen for her starting assignment inside the circle in game two. She then takes the hill and hits for seven more innings. When you go through that every game day, it is amazing that this is the first game van der Linden has ever missed.

In FSU’s 2-1, eight inning win over UNLV Jessica van der Linden did something no Seminole pitcher had done in over 10 months. With the Tribe in front 2-1 and needing a win over the Rebels to stay in contention for the pool championship, the senior came in and closed out the game in perfect fashion. van der Linden set the Rebels down in order and picked up FSU’s first save since May 10, 2003 and just the third save of her career. FSU pitchers have just 13 saves in the last three-plus seasons and current Seminoles van der Linden and Casey Hunter have seven of them.

200/700 CLUB
With her five strikeout performance versus No. 14 Fresno State, Jessica van der Linden moved her season K total to 197. She is just three K’s away from reaching 200 strikeouts in back-to-back seasons. When she hits 200, van der Linden will become just the fourth pitcher in Seminole history to reach that mark twice in her career. She will join Seminole greats Renee Espinoza, Christy Larsen and Julie Larsen in that exclusive club. She will most likely hit 200 in her start versus FIU considering van der Linden has never struck out fewer than five batters in any of her starts this season. This will be the second exclusive club she has joined this week. While at the Kia Klassic, van der Linden surpassed 700 career K’s and she is just the fourth Seminole ever to break the 700 K mark. With three more strikeouts she will join Julie and Christy Larsen as the only three FSU pitchers to ever record 700 career strikeouts and have two single seasons with more than 200 K’s.

When Seminole pitcher/outfielder Jessica van der Linden was named ACC Player of the Week for the fourth time this season it marked the seventh straight week that a Florida State softball player has taken home the conference’s weekly honor and it was the sixth time in van der Linden’s career that she has been named ACC Player of the Week.

The reigning NFCA and USA Softball National Player of the Week continued to shine last week as FSU went 6-1 with wins over two more top 20 teams in No. 15 Fresno State and No. 23 Arizona State. van der Linden led FSU at the plate and in the circle as she and the Seminoles advanced to the semifinals of the prestigious Kia Klassic tournament. The senior was the only Seminole to hit in every game last week despite the fact that FSU saw All-American candidate pitchers Peaches James (Nebraska) and Jamie Southern (Fresno State) in California this past weekend. The Cerritos, CA native hit .438 for the week and slugged .625 against some of the nation’s best teams. She also was 2-1 with a 0.32 ERA and a save.

One of the best stories for FSU this year is the play at the plate of fifth year senior Beth Wade. The three-year starter has never finished a season hitting above .234 since she became the team’s first baseman in 2002. In those two years Wade had some great streaks with the bat but she had a hard time maintaining her average throughout the season. All of that has changed in 2004. Wade is going out on an unbelievable high note as she is currently leading the team in home runs (7) and is hitting .304 with 24 RBIs while slugging .618. She has already established a new single season high for homers, doubles, triples, RBIs and runs scored and has almost twice as many HR’s in 2004 as she had in her career coming into the season. She is now only three round-trippers away from tying the single season home run record at FSU and with her next hit she will equal her season high for hits in a season. Wade has never batted over .300 at any point in a season since 2002 except after the first game of 2003 when she was hitting .333. This year her average has been above .300 everyday except for the second game of the year. She isn’t only hitting consistently, Wade is also getting big hits. With FSU holding on for dear life in pool play at the Kia versus UNLV it was Wade’s solo home run in the fifth that completely changed the game and allowed FSU to turn back the Rebel’s comeback and win the game in extra innings.

Last season FSU felt it was unfairly sent to Gainesville instead of hosting its own regional for the third straight year. One of the reasons that the NCAA may have shipped off the Seminoles is because of the team’s performance versus top 25 squads. Last year FSU went 3-4 versus ranked teams and on two of college softball’s biggest stages (the NFCA Leadoff Classic and the Kia Klassic) FSU went a combined 2-4 in the rained shortened tournaments. If that was a factor last year, it sure won’t be in 2004. FSU made the finals of the NFCA with a 5-1 record and the semifinals of the Kia with a 4-1 mark. The Tribe has made its presence felt in the two most prestigious tournaments of the year and of the eight teams to participate in the Kia and the NFCA, FSU was the only squad in that group to make at least the semifinals of each tournament. That group of eight are no slouches either including Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, DePaul, Fresno State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Princeton.

FIU: The Golden Panthers come into Tallahassee after a doubleheader sweep of Kent State, which evened their record at 17-17 for the year…FSU leads the all-time series 4-2 with the last meeting coming at home in Tallahassee where FIU split two games with the Seminoles…the last two times the teams have played twin bills, they have split in those meetings…senior Jennifer Owens leads the Golden Panthers with a .344 batting average and 13 RBI’s and she just set a new career record for hits with number 245 on the season…senior Kendra Laminack leads the pitching staff with 9 wins and a 1.03 ERA…FIU won’t come into Tallahassee intimidated by FSU’s No. 4 ranking. The Panthers have already played eight games versus teams that are or were ranked this season including No. 3 Cal. While FIU is just 2-6 in those games, four of the six losses have been by two runs or less…

FAMU: The Lady Rattlers have lost four straight games and will play four more (FIU twice and Jacksonville twice) before hosting FSU Tuesday night…FAMU is currently 19-22…the Seminoles lead the all-time series 79-5 but three of those losses have come at FAMU’s home park…the last time FSU lost to the Rattlers was in 2001 at Lady Rattler Softball Complex…coming into the weekend junior Ruby Nugent led the squad with a .362 batting average and 16 RBI’s…sophomore Danielle Brown led the pitching staff with 11 wins and a 1.48 ERA…FAMU is in the midst of a stellar season, which has seen them record quality wins over Minnesota, North Carolina, Penn State and Bethune Cookman.

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