May 26, 2004
WCWS Game Notes in PDF Format
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Complete College World Series Bios in PDF Format
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IS THE WORLD SERIES IN COLUMBUS?
The 2004 Women's College World Series has a familiar feel for six of the eight teams. Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Cal and Washington all were in Columbus, GA for the 2004 NFCA Leadoff Classic. Every team in FSU's half of the WCWS bracket was at the Leadoff Classic. This may be a good omen for the Seminoles as they had one of their best weekends of the year at the prestigious tournament finishing in the title game versus LSU (LSU won 4-3).
On the first day of Leadoff Classic play, the Tribe needed eight innings and a bottom of the eighth comeback but recorded their first win of the season over a ranked squad downing Texas 2-1. Day two of the Leadoff Classic will go down as one of the greatest regular season days in FSU softball history. The day began at 10:00 a.m. with a 7-1 whitewashing of then-No. 4 Washington. The win clinched the No. 1 overall seed in the gold bracket for FSU and was one of the most lopsided wins over a top five team ever for Florida State. The Seminoles' reward for being the No. 1 seed was an Oklahoma squad that was No. 5 in the nation but was upset in pool play and had to qualify as a wild card. Reminiscent of the win Friday night over Texas, FSU rallied from a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh to beat the Sooners 3-2 and move into the tournament semifinals. The two top five wins represented just the second time in program history that FSU had toppled two top five teams in the same day. The only other time that happened was in 1998 when FSU beat No. 2 Fresno State 2-1 and No. 3 Washington 1-0. The Seminoles picked up their fourth win over a top 25 team in the tournament semifinals in another dramatic win. Tatiana George's two-run, two-out walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth moved Florida State passed then-No. 20 South Carolina and into the tournament championship. Despite FSU's loss to then-No. 12 LSU 4-3 in the final, the Seminoles went 5-1 in the Leadoff Classic with four wins over ranked teams and three wins over 2003 Women's College World Series squads (Washington, Texas and Oklahoma). In just three days, FSU racked up more Top 25 wins than the team had in all of 2003.
Against some of the best pitchers in the nation on WCWS teams (Washington, LSU and Oklahoma) FSU hit .303 as a team with seven home runs and 29 RBIs while slugging .448. Natasha Jacob hit .429 for the weekend while Jessica van der Linden and Lesley Palmer each had four RBIs. Tatiana George was the Tribe's biggest hitter though. While only batting .267 for the tournament, she dominated with two home runs and eight RBIs. On the hill it was all about van der Linden. The USA Softball Player of the Year finalist went 3-0 with a 0.34 ERA with wins over Washington and Oklahoma.
FSU VERSUS THE WCWS
Florida State has played seven games versus five teams in the 2004 Women's College World Series. In those seven games the Tribe went 3-4. Versus the two teams on its side of the bracket, the Seminoles went 2-0 with a 7-1 win over the Huskies and a 3-2 win over the Sooners. Two of FSU's four losses came to Michigan in Ann Arbor at the end of the regular season.
The usual suspects for FSU had the most success in those games. ACC Rookie of the Year and All-Region Team member Veronica Wootson really showed she could play at the top level with her performance in these games. The Californian hit .435 to lead the team and also led the squad with two doubles. Jessica van der Linden was awesome at the plate and on the mound. She hit .381 in the seven games with a double, a triple and three RBIs. She slugged a team-best .524 as well. In the circle she was 3-2 but her ERA was a miniscule 0.47 in 29.2 innings of work. She issued just seven walks and struck out 32 batters. Natasha Jacob was also at her best versus the WCWS competition. The sophomore hit .333 with an RBI and led the team with three sacrifices.
DON'T CAL US AND WE WON'T CAL YOU
The Seminoles and Cal Bears will be the last first round game of the 2004 WCWS but the two squads have plenty of postseason history. The two squads met in the 2002 WCWS with Cal taking the game 1-0. Jocelyn Forest threw a two-hitter and sent FSU to the loser's bracket after the Tribe opened the tournament with a stunning upset of top-seeded UCLA. That meeting came just a year after the squads had an epic showdown in the 2001 Tallahassee Regional. The Bears beat FSU in a winner's bracket game but the Seminoles fought their way back to championship Sunday. They beat the Bears to force a second championship game. Playing as the visitor in its own stadium, FSU took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th inning. With just one strike to go and the bases loaded, Cal dropped a hit into centerfield scoring two runs and sending Cal to the WCWS.
ONCE IS LUCK, FOUR TIMES IS A TREND
While FSU is making its seventh overall WCWS appearance, it is just the second time the Tribe has been to Oklahoma City in a decade. That doesn't mean the Seminoles have been down recently. Florida State has played in a regional championship game in four of the last five seasons and has advanced to the WCWS half of the time (2002 & 2004) . In 2000, FSU was sent to UCLA and lost to the Bruins on championship Sunday. Then in 2001, FSU fell to Cal at home in the second of two championship games. The Tribe made it to Oklahoma City in 2002 after taking two games from Georgia Tech on Sunday after coming through the loser's bracket. Then this season the Seminoles defeated Oregon to get to the WCWS. The only hiccup along the way was in 2003 when the Seminoles entered regional play on a 27-game winning streak and promptly lost two games at the Gainesville regional. The FSU success over the last five years really speaks to how good of a coach Dr. JoAnne Graf is. From 1987 to 1993, FSU made five WCWS trips. From 1986 to 1996, FSU went to 11 straight NCAA Regionals. By 1997 the program missed the postseason twice in a three-year span. Graf has proved those three years were nothing more than just a bump in the road. In the last three years she has been to as many WCWS as Arizona and Washington and more that LSU and Stanford. She has returned the Tribe to greatness once again.
THAT'S HOW GOOD THEY WERE AND WE ARE
If you are wondering just how good Oregon was, the Ducks came to Tallahassee and did something only one other team did in 42 games at the Seminole Softball Complex this year, shutout the Seminoles. FSU was 40-1 before championship Sunday and the only team to beat FSU at home was Louisiana-Lafayette. That game went 10 innings with Brooke Mitchell out dueling Jessica van der Linden 1-0. It was the only shutout home loss Florida State experienced all season before Oregon took down FSU 1-0 in the regional final. It says a lot about how good Oregon is but maybe says even more about how good FSU is at home. The only two teams to come into Tallahassee and beat the Seminoles were in regional finals this weekend (Oregon in Region 4 and ULL in Region 1) . Overall, only five teams all season have held the most prolific offense in FSU history off the board. Oregon, ULL, Nebraska, Auburn and Michigan were the only schools to shut down the Tribe attack in 2004. Michigan is going to the WCWS. ULL, Oregon and Nebraska played in a regional championship and Auburn played in the NCAA's as well. Not a bad group considering the pitchers that shut FSU out were Brooke Mitchell (ULL), Ani Nyhus (Oregon), Nicole Motycka (Michigan), Kristen Keyes (Auburn) and Peaches James (Nebraska) .
WHAT A DAY
While Jessica van der Linden's amazing day at regionals was actually 30 hours, what she did over that span was amazing. Versus No. 12 Oregon, she pitched 22 consecutive innings in about 30 hours and allowed just one run in that time leading her team to the College World Series. When van der Linden's team was down 4-0 in a winner's bracket game versus the Ducks on Saturday, she came in to pitch and held Oregon at bay for nine innings as she and her teammates not only tied the game but they came back to win it. Then she went 13 innings in two games Sunday allowing only four hits and one run as FSU sealed its trip to Oklahoma City. Over the entire Regional, the senior went 3-1 with a 0.24 ERA in 29 innings of work. She allowed just one run and eight hits while fanning 38 batters. At the plate, she led FSU hitting with a .462 average, four RBIs and a .611 on base percentage. She was walked five times and all five were intentional. In her 29 innings on the hill, she accounted for 87 outs - 38 of which came on strikeouts (44%) and only six of the outs were made by outfielders. For her efforts, van der Linden was named the NCAA Region 4 most outstanding player in a unanimous vote of SIDs and media.
NO NEED TO PAC IT IN
With half of the 2004 WCWS field from the Pac-10 that usually wouldn't be such a good sign for Florida State. That isn't the case in 2004. Coming into 2004, FSU was 7-39 all-time versus Pac-10 squads. This season the Seminoles have gone 4-1 versus Pac-10 teams with wins over Arizona State, Washington and two wins versus the Ducks. Going from a .152 winning percentage to a .800 winning percentage should give Seminole fans hope in a tournament dominated by Pac-10 squads.
With four wins at the 2004 NCAA Region 4 Tournament, FSU is getting closer and closer to a huge school record. While it would take a school record three wins in Oklahoma City to do it, FSU could tie or even break the single-season wins record on the grandest of stages. The 2004 Seminoles are only the third team in school history to break the 60-win plateau and every one of those squads ended up in the World Series. The 1991 and 1992 teams each broke that barrier as well. The 1991 team went 61-12 on its way to the WCWS. The 1992 team had more wins (63) and a better winning percentage (.875) and also made it to the WCWS. Neither of those teams fared particularly well in Oklahoma City though. The '91 squad went 1-2 and the '92 team was 0-2 in WCWS play. The 2004 squad is hoping to change that trend.
By now many people know FSU All-American Jessica van der Linden will be marrying current Seattle Seahawk safety and former FSU linebacker Michael Boulware July 3rd. What many people don't know is that Jessica isn't the first FSU athlete to marry a Boulware nor is she even the first FSU softball player to do so. Did you know that Michael's brother, Baltimore Raven All-Pro Peter Boulware married former Seminoles volleyball setter Kensy Zulueta while former Seminole hurler Renee Espinoza is married to Boulware brother Raleigh. Espinoza was a second team All-American for JoAnne Graf's Seminoles in 1996. While van der Linden is a first team All-American and holds a lower single-season ERA than her future sister-in-law, Espinoza's 30 wins in 1995 are more than van der linden has ever been able to muster in a season but with 28 this year she could get there in OKC.
STOP THE TOP
The 2004 FSU softball team is in the midst of its most prolific offensive season ever. The team has set new single-season marks for home runs (41), RBIs (308), runs (364) and walks (248) . In the circle FSU has set a single season record for strikeouts (649). It isn't hard to see why the Seminoles are having one of the best years in team history. But if you want to stop the Tribe's run onslaught, you have to contain No.'s 1, 2 and 3. While containing Jessica van der Linden (who hits third) is nearly impossible, the teams that have beat FSU have done well against lead-off hitter Veronica Wootson and number two batter Natasha Jacob. In the Tribe's 10 losses, Wootson is hitting just .242 and she has scored just four runs. In the Seminoles' 61 wins, she is hitting .359 and has scored 65 runs while racking up 32 RBIs. When Wootson gets on base she scores and FSU wins. It isn't a coincidence that she is averaging more than a run a game in the Tribe's wins and 0.25 runs a game in the losses. On the other hand, Jacob is struggling even worse in those 10 losses hitting .138 with an on base percentage of just .167. But in the 61 wins, she is hitting .369, she has 15 of her team leading 18 sacrifices and she is slugging .500. When the top of the order comes through, the Seminole offense is hard to contain.
While the top of the FSU order is the catalyst, the middle of the Tribe order is where the big hitters are and they have been struggling as of late. One of the reasons the Seminoles left 41 runners on base in five games at the 2004 Regional was that the 1 and 2 hitters were doing there job and teams were walking Jessica van der Linden daring the middle of the FSU order to beat them. That wasn't happening. Clean-up hitter Lesley Palmer and five-hole hitter and 2003 All-America catcher Elisa Vasquez went a combined 3-for-29 at the regional. Considering the fact that they combined to leave just one runner on base in the first two games, the two stranded 16 in the next three games versus Oregon. Each left five or more runners on base in at least one of those three games. If you add in Beth Wade who hits seven, the Seminoles' top three power hitters went 5-for-46, hit .108 and combined for just one RBI. That will need to change if FSU wants to bring home its first-ever national title.
OUT (FIELD) OF THIS WORLD
While the FSU infield had its troubles in one of the games at the regional last weekend, the Tribe outfield has been absolutely stellar in 2004. Considering that six different Seminoles have started in the outfield in 2004, the group has really excelled defensively. The six Seminole outfielders have had 115 chances and made only three errors all season. That is a combined .973 fielding percentage by that group. Natasha Jacob in left field has one error in her career and has started almost every game the last two seasons. Jessica van der Linden is probably FSU's best defensive outfielder. LaShaun Davis has a miscue but she has made just one in her first year. Carly Brieske is also showing how versatile she is with 48 starts between center and right.
PLAYING THROUGH IT
While clean-up hitter Lesley Palmer struggled at the plate in the 2004 NCAA Regional, one should keep in mind that she is playing on a torn ACL. The Seminole third baseman tore the ACL in her left knee versus Georgia Tech April 3. After about three weeks of rehab, the slugging junior returned with a brace and is still hitting in the four spot as the designated player. Palmer's injury has shuffled more than just the infield where back-up utility player Kim Hoffer has stepped in. With Palmer now occupying the DP spot, the Seminole battery of Jessica van der Linden and BilleAnne Gay has been broken up. Now instead of Gay catching for van der Linden and Vasquez hitting for her, Vasquez is catching every game. That has also forced Carly Brieske's formidable bat to the bench as well. The sophomore was in the midst of a breakout season but has seen her at bats decrease with Palmer's injury and due to the emergence of LaShaun Davis. Davis was expected to come in and set the world a blaze but she struggled adjusting to the Division I game. That has changed as of late. The kid who was invited to try out for USA Softball's Junior National Team is on fire as she plays more and more at the DI level. While she may only be hitting .223, she has raised her average 30 points since the start of May. Since FSU played Auburn May 3, Davis has hit .303 and been on base almost 38% of the time she gets an at bat. Her adjustment to DI pitching seemed to come full circle in the NCAA Region 4 Championship game. The freshman recorded just the second hit of the game for FSU and came home with the winning run on Natasha Jacob's game-winning double. It was the second huge hit the freshman recorded in a championship. Just a week earlier it was Davis' triple that drove in the winning run in FSU's ACC Championship victory over Georgia Tech.