TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Lonni Alameda believes in tireless preparation, so that her team is ready for any opportunity that arises.
An opportunity presented itself here in the sixth inning of Sunday’s deciding game of the NCAA Tallahassee Super Regional, and it could not have been more glorious: Bases loaded, no outs and superstar slugger Jessie Warren at the plate for Florida State, which needed two runs to draw even with LSU.
A base hit would have likely done the trick. A home run – like any of the 23 Warren had already hit this season – might have sealed a victory for the Seminoles and had them packing their bags for Oklahoma City.
FSU may have trailed by two, but, in the moment, the go-ahead runs felt inevitable – especially after LSU pitcher Carley Hoover threw six straight balls.
“When bases were loaded and Warren was up, it wasn’t the best situation ever,” Hoover said. “Then I started off with a ball, that was even worse.”
“We had the hitters we wanted to have up,” Alameda added. “At some point, that’s all you can ask for and the outcome is what the outcome is.”
Preparation and opportunity, however, are no guarantee of success, especially in a sport that can be as painfully random as softball.
Which is why Alameda could only shake her head when Warren’s bat rolled over a 1-0 pitch and sent a weak grounder to third base. LSU threw the lead runner out at home and eventually escaped the inning with no further damage on the way to a 6-4 victory at JoAnne Graf Field.
The Tigers are on their way to Oklahoma City for a third straight season. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are processing a difficult lesson.
“What we have here is special, but as you can see here, nothing is guaranteed,” said team captain Ellie Cooper, one of three seniors fighting through tears at FSU’s postgame press conference. “Just because you put the work in, just because you do the right things and respect the game doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
Were it that simple, the Seminoles almost certainly would have been victorious.
Alameda has built a culture that believes in process over results. She preaches the importance of each individual pitch – win one, then win the next one and, over time, those wins will add up to victories on the scoreboard.
It’s common to hear her reference the “softball gods,” and playing in a way that pleases them.
And, lest anyone think the Seminoles take themselves too seriously, there may not have been a looser, more fun-loving team in the nation – as evidenced by the dancing and singing and joking throughout the dugout all year.
But for as much joy as the game brings, it can turn just as cruel in an instant.
“I definitely thought we had it,” Alameda said. “We showed a lot of grit and we worked for it…. We’ve done everything possible to fight.”
She’s right about that.
The fateful sixth inning came only after the Seminoles rallied from a 5-1 deficit, with seniors Cooper and Alex Powers leading the offensive charge.
And even after the deflating sixth – Cooper followed with a sacrifice fly and Powers with a groundout to the pitcher – the Seminoles still put a scare in the Tigers in the seventh.
Sydney Broderick led off with a single, then pinch-runner Leslie Farris advanced to second on a wild pitch. When Carsyn Gordon lined a base hit to center field, the Seminoles appeared to have another golden opportunity – runners on the corners, no outs and mounting pressure in the LSU dugout.
Instead, Gordon tried to stretch her single into a double and was thrown out at second base.
Cali Harrod and Dani Morgan then followed up with a pair of fly balls – Morgan might have just missed a home run swing – and, in a startling instant, FSU’s rally was over.
“It’s all you can ask for in those situations,” Cooper said. “Our goal was to just win pitches and fight, pitch by pitch. We were in the right situations at the right time with the right people at the plate.”
Which was of little comfort in the moments after the game.
FSU’s seniors will one day be able to look back on their careers with pride over what they’ve accomplished, including a pair of WCWS trips and Florida State’s emergence as the standard bearer in the ACC.
And the Seminoles’ underclassmen will in a few weeks turn their attention toward next season. With Warren back in the fold, as well as the continued development of players such as Morgan, catcher Anna Shelnutt and pitcher Meghan King, FSU should once again field a formidable lineup.
They’ll further those seniors’ legacy by continuing to do things the way they did – with dedicated preparation and a commitment to playing the game the right way.
And when that opportunity knocks again, they’ll believe that a better outcome is in store.