OKLAHOMA CITY — History is on the horizon for the Florida State softball team. After spending the last few weeks emphatically crashing into the ranks of the sport’s elite – claiming victories over perennial powers Florida, Oregon and UCLA along the way – coach Lonni Alameda’s Seminoles have one more obstacle in their way before they can claim college softball’s biggest prize.
Perhaps it’s only appropriate that it will be another blue blood sitting in the opposite dugout.
Florida State, the No. 6 national seed on the cusp of its first Women’s College World Series title in 10 appearances, will meet fifth-seeded Washington in a best-of-three series to determine the national champion. Game 1 is tonight at OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN. Tuesday’s Game 2 begins at 8, and a potential Game 3 would be at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Huskies are in their 13th WCWS, captured their first and only crown in 2009, and also have a pair of runner-up finishes.
Here’s a look at both teams heading into tonight’s opener:
No. 6 Florida State Seminoles (56-12, 21-3 ACC)
Head coach: Lonni Alameda, 10th season
Florida State vs. Washington: Game 1 of the WCWS Final will be the 13th all-time meeting between FSU and UW. Washington leads the series 7-5 and has won three straight over the Seminoles, however the two haven’t met since 2013. All but one contest between FSU and UW has taken place at a neutral site, and the Seminoles claimed the only meeting at the Women’s College World Series, in 2004.
Top hitters: Jessie Warren, Sr. 3B (.394, 20 HRs, 68 RBIs, ACC POY, second-team NFCA All-American); Sydney Sherrill Fr. 2B (.376, 28 2Bs, 12 HRs, 58 RBIs, ACC Freshman of the Year, third-team NFCA All-American), Carsyn Gordon Jr. UTIL (.313, 12 HRs, 51 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Kylee Hanson, RSr. RHP (30-6, 1.33 ERA, ACC Pitcher of the year, second-team NFCA All-American); Meghan King, RJr. LHP (24-6, 1.22 ERA)
How they got here: Florida State all year has traded on its resilience, so it’s no surprise that the Seminoles were comfortable with their backs against the wall in Oklahoma City. After dropping their WCWS opener to UCLA, the Seminoles reeled off four straight wins against a gauntlet of No. 7 Georgia, No. 1 Oregon and No.3 UCLA (twice) to reach their first WCWS Final.
That toughness harkens back to last week’s NCAA Super Regional, in which FSU dropped its first game against LSU but bounced back to win the next two and reach its second WCWS in three years. All told, the Seminoles have won six consecutive elimination games.
As for Oklahoma City, Florida State is the first team to advance from the full “loser’s bracket” since 2010, a fact which might suggest the Seminoles are underdogs. And maybe they are. But that opening loss to UCLA also hides that, save for one bad inning, FSU has enjoyed a simply dominant week in OKC.
Save for a fateful sixth inning against the Bruins, in which UCLA plated six runs, the Seminoles have outscored their WCWS opponents by a total of 30-11.
In the process, they knocked off a team from the SEC, widely-regarded as the nation’s best softball conference, and the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 seed, then became only the second team to ever beat UCLA twice in the same day of WCWS competition.
FSU, which has won five consecutive ACC softball titles, can also become the league’s first softball national champion.
No. 5 Washington Huskies (52-8, 15-8 Pac-12)
WCWS history: 13 appearances, one national championship (2009)
Head coach: Heather Tarr, 15th season
Top hitters: Sis Bates, Soph. SS (.395, 5 HRs, 35 RBIs, Pac-12 defensive POY, first-team NFCA All-American); Julia DePonte, Sr. UTIL (.331, 15 HRs, 54 RBIs); Kirstyn Thomas, Sr. INF (.335, 12 HRs, 55 RBIs); Taylor Van Zee, Sr. INF (.378, nine HRs, 42 RBIs)
Top pitchers: Taran Alvelo, Jr. RHP (23-4, 1.10 ERA, second-team NFCA All-American); Gabbie Plain, Fr. RHP (22-4, 0.98 ERA, third-team NFCA All-American)
How they got here: Washington spent much of the season ranked No. 1 before a late-April skid sent them tumbling in the polls. The Huskies suffered through a six-game losing streak, but don’t make too much of that: All six of those losses came at the hands of eventual No. 1 seed Oregon and No. 3 UCLA, both of which advanced to Oklahoma City. In fact, every team to beat Washington this year later played in the WCWS. (Arizona State, which took two of three from UW in March, was the other.)
Since that six-game slide, however, the Huskies seem to have played at an extremely high level. They’ve won 11 straight games, five via shutout, and made quick work of two-time defending champ Oklahoma and Oregon in OKC to advance to the final.
Quotes of note: “It’s like we are in a boxing match, and that’s what it’s going to be. It’s going to be blow-blow. And we’re going to keep going, they’re going to keep going, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.” – Lonni Alameda
“We want to show that, (in) this amazing game, you don’t have to be in one or two conferences or maybe one of the teams in another conference to win a national championship. You don’t. You can be at another school, another conference, and you can make it happen.” – Alameda
“I tell the girls all the time, it’s hard to beat us more than once. The team fights and we don’t stop fighting. We don’t know how to stop fighting.” – Jessie Warren
“You learn more from losses sometimes than you do from wins. And I think that we learned a lot through those six games. It was back-to-back, so it kind of stung. But sometimes losing doesn’t feel like losses, and we learned from it. … I think it made us stronger.” – Washington utility player Julia DePonte
“I just feel very prideful in just proving to our women that women can lead. You can lead with emotion. You can lead with wisdom. And gender is important, I think, only because women haven’t tapped into the men’s side of the game. I think the ‘equal’ for us would be baseball. But until that happens, I feel like we have to continue to prove to the world that we can lead each other, and we can be great with each other.” – Washington coach Heather Tarr, on having four women head coaches in the WCWS final four for the first time