By Arnie Leshin
After struggling through the Atlantic Coast Conference season, 10th-seeded Florida State saved its best for the biggest stage, the NCAA Division I Softball World Series in Oklahoma City in coming out of the loser’s bracket to sweep 3rd-seeded Alabama and reserve a spot in the best-of-3 championship round.
The Seminoles (47-11-1) now move on to Tuesday’s game one at the Hall of Fame Stadium after shutting down the Crimson Tide, 2-0, in game one Sunday, and again on Monday, 8-5. Nothing fancy, nothing regarding a lot of long balls, just putting the ball in play, singles, singles and more singles.
Now they and top-seeded Oklahoma (54-3) become the first teams to come out of the loser’s bracket and into the finals. Game time is scheduled for 7:30 EST on ESPN. The Sooners won twice over unseeded James Madison, 6-3 and 7-1.
FSU struck quickly off of junior right hander Montana Fouts, who was coming off a perfect game against UCLA, but this time Fouts began with a iffy first inning,
Katey Mudge, who had a 5-for-5 game, led off with a single to left, red shirt junior Sydney Sherrill drew a walk, and up came senior Elizabeth Mason to clout a 2-2 pitch over the left field fence.
There were still no outs, but the Seminoles settled for these quickies. In the second, they added three runs when red shirt freshman Devyn Flaherty and red shirt senior Dani Morgan both singled, and freshman Kalei Harding followed with a 2-run double. In the third, Fouts was gone, relieved by Lext Kilfoyl, as FSU piled on two more runs on RBI off the bats of Mudge and Morgan.
At 7-0, Seminole starter, sophomore rrighty Kathryn Sandercock, hadn’t allowed a hit until the third when Bama scored twice on a single from graduate student Taylor Clark, who was driven in by senior Bailey Hemphill’s double with two out. Senior Kayle Tow then singled to score pinch-runner, junior Kayla Davis and cut the defict to 7-2.
But in the fourth, FSU added a run when Sherrill bunted for a base hit, swiped second, and came around on Mason’s single up the middle. Now Alabama didn’t have to be concerned with 8-0, for now it was 8-2, and besides, no team in the World Series ever came from 8 runs behind.
But Hemphill, who is best at hitting the long ball, belted one over the fence in deep center field in the fifth, but was all the Crimson Tide would score as Sandercock settled down to retire the side in the sixth and leave two on with two out by striking out Clark on a 3-2 rise ball.
Gone was Bama, in was FSU and its aggressive game was back in the finals for the first time since winning the title in 2018. It is a team that is scrappy and fast, it turns singles into doubles and triples.
Said Mudge, a red shirt freshman and the center fielder: “If you’re not willing to risk it all, you’re not worthy to win it all, and we are willing to risk it.”
Sandercock worked the first five innings, struck out six, walked two, and allowed seven hits. Daniel Watson hurled the last two frames, Fouts, the loser, had only two strikeouts, issued the same number of walks, and gave up six hits in her short stay.
So, if you expected James Madison and Alabama to meet up in the championship round, you have to believe it will be Oklahoma and Florida State out of the loser’s bracket. And they each played five games to get there.