By Arnie Leshin
By the time the Oklahoma bats began hitting the ball, the damage was already done.
In this first-ever clash of two teams that came out of the loser’s bracket, Florida State untied a scoreless game one in the top of the second inning with a 2-run home run over the left field fence by freshman Kalei Harding, and never trailed in coming away with the 8-4 win in game one of the NCAA Division I National Softball World Series championship series Tuesday night.
It was thought that long-time Sooners head coach Patti Gasso would be starting red-hot senior southpaw Giselle Juarez in the circle, but instead she chose freshman right hander Nicole May and is just wasn’t her night as the Seminoles added five runs in the fourth and an insurance run off of righty senior reliever Shannon Saile in the seventh.
They came away with 11 hits on a combination of singles, doubles after the four-bagger. They also stole three bases and took extra bases as the usually solid Oklahoma defense helped along with three errors.
Down 7-0 with two down in the fourth, the Sooners, now 54-4, clouted back-to-back first pitches by sophomore Kenzee Hansen and senior Nicole Mendes to almost the same distance over the left field fence.
They added two more in the sixth, but left two runners on with one out when junior Grace Lyons flied out to left field and senior Lynnsie Elam grounded out to second. The runs came on back-to-back hits from freshman Jayda Coleman and Mendes and driven in by sophomore MacKenzie’s liner down the right field line.
In the seventh, they picked up back-to-back hits from junior Jocelyn Alo
and Hansen, but pinch-runner, sophomore Rylie Boone, was tagged out at the plate following the second FSU error, and the threat ended with a Seminole celebration to put it up 1-0 in the best-of-3 series that resumes Wednesday night.
It was as usual, a full house announced at 13,337 at Oklahoma City’s Hall of Fame Stadium and most of the seats were filled by the Sooner fans who had only a 30-minute drive south from their campus in Norman.
But if Florida State thought it would see red-hot Juarez in the circle, it wasn’t disappointed. It got to May early with walks, a pair of hit batters, and key safeties. May got to several 3-2 counts and couldn’t find the strikeout pitch, either issuing walks or hits.
The Seminoles, now 48-11-1, worked pitches to long counts and scored all of the seven runs off of May while their starting hurler. junior right hander Danielle Watson, took care of business in striking out five, not issuing a single base on balls, and was relieved by usual starter, righty sophomore Kathryn Sandercock, in the sixth after giving up the four runs and seven hits.
Freshman Katey Mudge, who came into this game on a 5-for-5 hit streak, had a pair of hits this time, junior Sydney Sherrill batted home three runs in the 5-run fourth, and Harding added a 2-run double in the same frame to her earlier home run.
FSU senior Dani Morgan contributed two hits and scored three times, while Mudge had two stolen bases, and twice took the extra base.
In the seventh, the insurance run came when sophomore Josae Muffrey sped to the plate on a double off the bat of senior Anna Shainutt and was called safe when obstruction was called against catcher Elam, with the home plate umpire saying that Elam was blocking the way to the plate before receiving the ball.
Muffrey collided into her, and after she was attended to for several minutes at home, was sent out of the game and diagnosed for a possible concussion.
Oklahoma came up with eight hits, but it was tough coming from behind. If there’s any consolation after a defeat, it will no doubt counter with Juarez, who is 3-0 in the World Series. There was no telling how this contest might have went if she was in the circle, but it’s too late now, and her time will come in game two as the Sooners play to survive and deciding game three Thursday night.
As for FSU, head coach Lanni Almerado will probably start Sandercock in the circle, with Watson and senior Caylan Arnold in the bullpen.