February 12, 2004 - by
WEEKLY RELEASE: FSU Faces No. 4 Oklahoma Friday At Sunshine State Tournament

Feb. 12, 2004

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Seminole starters Jessica van der Linden and Casey Hunter are picking up right where they left off last season. The duo, who formed the nation’s fourth-best staff in 2003, is 6-0 with a combined ERA of 0.78 so far in 2004. In almost 36 innings, the pair has issued just six walks and has struck out 57 batters. The only chance hitters have had against them all year is in the first inning. The two have not given up a single run after the first frame. Hunter has given up all five of her runs in the first but if you take out the three first innings she has pitched, the Illinois native has allowed just two hits in 15 innings of work with one walk, 18 strikeouts and no runs. Van der linden, on the other hand, has been untouchable no matter what the inning as her 0.00 ERA illustrates. The senior first team All-American has not allowed a run of any sort and her numbers get even better after the first inning. Teams are batting .250 against van der Linden in the first but nobody hits above .200 against her in any other inning. In fact, the southpaw has yet to allow a hit in second or third innings. The entire staff, including freshman Amy Harrison, hadn’t allowed a run after the first before the fourth inning of the Mercer game when the Bears touched Harrison on a two-run home run.

Jessica van der Linden has done what every coach hopes and that’s get better and better each year. The senior has seen hitting numbers increase every year and her pitching stats get better in almost every category. Seeing her raise her average from .312 as a freshman to .412 as a junior was impressive. Watching her slugging percentage go from .419 to .542 was eye opening as well. She has also increased her walks from 19 as a freshman to 49 as a junior last year. Watching her runs, earned runs, and walks issued all fall inside the circle is quite an accomplishment too. While those are all impressive feats, her blossoming into a dominant strikeout pitcher probably takes the cake. That was never more evident than Wednesday night against Mercer. The senior came in to relieve freshman Amy Harrison in the fourth with one down. Needing 11 outs to close out the game, van der Linden proceeded to get 10 via the K. She struck out the side in the last three innings to secure the win. This season she is averaging over two strikeouts per inning and in three appearances she has fanned 9, 16 and 10 batters. For her career, van der Linden averages about 1.15 strikeouts per inning but her total K’s have increased every season from 91 to 175 to 246 in 2003. She has never gotten off to a start this good though. In 2001, van der Linden struck out 18 in her first 17 innings. In 2002 it was 20 and in 2003 24. With 35 in just over 17 innings this year she is well on her way to climbing into the top three for career strikeouts at Florida State.

As impressive as Jessica van der Linden has been at striking out batters when she is inside the circle (see above note) she may be more impressive at avoiding K’s at the plate. The senior has some of the best judgment at the dish when it comes to strikeouts. In 583 at bats, van der Linden has only struck out 57 times. That is just one K in every 10.2 at bats. As amazing as that is, it is only the sixth-best ratio among FSU’s all time at bats leaders. All-American Christy Larsen leads the category with just one strikeout in every 19.63 at bats during her four-year career. Kristy Hull isn’t far behind with a ratio of 1 to 18.66. Jesse McGregor is third all-time (1 to 15.63), FSU Hall of Famer Shamalene Wilson is fourth (1 to 14.58) and All-American Missy Calkins is fifth at 1 to 10.76. While number six on the list, van der Linden is once again keeping pretty impressive company.

In her fifth-year, graduate student Beth Wade has been through it all with Seminole softball. The third-year starter at first base is coming off her best season at the plate and in the field despite a workload in the classroom that would sink most non-athletes and this year her experience seems to be paying off. The Colquitt, GA native is off to a phenomenal start through six games. Wade is hitting .313, has scored five runs, driven in five RBIs and has doubled twice. In about 11% of the at bats she had last year (16 compared to 137), she already has half as many doubles and runs and a quarter of the RBIs she had in an entire year in 2003. She has also drawn more walks than strikeouts, which is something the senior has worked on every year. As a sophomore she walked just one for every three strikeouts. Last season Wade cut that number to a walk for every two K’s. So far in 2004, she is walking 1.34 times for every strike out, a big improvement.

While the seventh game of a 60+ game season can’t be considered a turning point, Friday’s game against No. 4 Oklahoma is a biggie. In all likelihood, the Sooners will be the highest ranked team to visit the Seminole Softball Complex this year and it is even possible that they could be the highest ranked team the Tribe plays all season. The last time the team’s met was 2002 and that meeting is one of the biggest regular season meetings in recent FSU history. When the teams met in their opening round game at the KIA Klassic that year, FSU was No. 22 and boasting a 21-9 record. OU was sixth in the nation, 23-5 and just a year removed from a national championship. With the game knotted at 0-0 in the fifth, senior third baseman Becky Brock singled home the eventual game-winner in the 1-0 victory. The RBI was just the second of the season for Brock. That win vaulted the Seminoles into the tournament semifinals and eventually into the World Series. After the OU win, FSU went 26-6 through the regular season and eventually reached the final four at the WCWS.

Florida State isn’t just winning to start the 2004 season they are winning impressively. Five of the Tribe’s six wins have been by at least four runs and four of those five have been by eight runs. The closest game FSU has played so far in 2004 was a 3-0 victory against Minnesota. This is the first time since 1996 that FSU has started 6-0. The best start FSU has ever had came in 1992 when the Seminoles ripped off 25 straight wins to start the season. No FSU team since 1994 has started a season with a more impressive win streak with as many lopsided games as the 2004 squad.

Illinois: Florida State has a record of 1-1 all time against Illinois with both games coming in 2001 at a tournament hosted by Florida Atlantic…Illinois comes in to the Sunshine State Tournament with a record of 3-2-1 with a win against #15 LSU and a tie against #4 Oklahoma who is also a part of this weekend’s tournament…the Illini are led offensively by Lindsey Hamma who is batting .471 with 4 RBIs…the pitching staff is led in wins by Amanda Fortune with two and lead in ERA by Sherri Taylor with a 1.84.

Western Kentucky: This is Florida State’s first meeting with Western Kentucky…WKU opens the tournament and their season with Illinois…the Hilltoppers finished 2003 with a record of 30-32 and took third place in Sun Belt Conference…senior Allison Silver led Western Kentucky in wins and ERA with 15 and 1.66 respectively in 2003…junior Renita Pennington led the team with a .374 batting average in 2003.

No. 4 Oklahoma: Florida State leads the all time series with Oklahoma 5-3 with the last meeting in 2002 (a 1-0 Seminoles win)…the Sooners come into Tallahassee ranked #4 and undefeated at 7-0-1…of the teams in this weekend’s tournament, Oklahoma has only faced Illinois and has a 1-1 record against them all-time…junior April Valdez leads the team with a .562 batting average…sophomore Nicole Denes leads the team in wins and shutouts with four and two respectively.

Southern Miss: Florida State leads the all time series against Southern Miss with a record of 6-3 with the last meeting coming in 2000 in which the Lady Eagles swept FSU in two games…Southern Miss comes into Tallahassee at 1-1…sophomore Ashley Davis leads the team with a perfect batting average early in the season…Southern Miss will take on Illinois Friday in their first game.

No. 22 South Carolina: South Carolina leads the all time series with Florida State 19-18 with the last meeting being a loss in Tallahassee in 2002…the two teams used to play as many as six times a year when they were both members of the Metro Conference…the Gamecocks come into the tournament with a 4-0 record and are ranked #22 nationally…South Carolina is lead by Samantha Jennings with a .538 batting average…the pitching staff has a 0.29 ERA and two shutouts led by Aleca Johnson with two wins.

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