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Florida State softball notebook: National Championship Edition

Thoughts on a championship season

FloSports: FloSoftball Women's College World Series Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard the Florida State softball team just won the first NCAA championship in program history. The Seminoles (56-12) also finished as ACC champions in the regular season for the sixth straight year. The Noles have won the ACC tournament title five years in a row.

This notebook will be a bit different from the ones that I normally write because it will be focused entirely on one sport – that’s what happens when you win a national championship.

The Schedule

Florida State plays in the ACC which isn’t a premier softball conference. FSU was ranked fifth in the year end RPI (May 13th). The next highest ACC team was Notre Dame (42nd). For context, the lowest rated SEC team was Ole Miss (40th).

Head coach Lonni Alameda is well aware of this fact so she schedules up in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Florida State had the highest ranked non-conference strength of schedule in the nation. The Seminoles played the following teams in the regular season – RPI rank in parentheses; Minnesota (23), Michigan (31), Alabama (16), Oregon (1), Louisiana (22), and Florida (3). That is a murder’s row and it contributed to Florida State having the ninth toughest overall schedule in the nation despite the weakness of the rest of the ACC. I mention this to make the point that FSU didn’t just beat up on a bunch of softies to get their wins. This team is 100% legit and still would have been if they played in any conference in America.

The Season

In a championship season there are several moments that can be looked upon as important. However, I want to highlight just a few that were particularly pivotal to this championship run.

Anna Shelnutt hits a walkoff 3-run homer against Pitt in the ACC Tournament Final

Anna Shelnutt has a love-hate relationship with her nickname of “Postseason Anna” however she has earned the nickname because she has a flair for the dramatic combined with a knack for delivering in the clutch. It started last year and it continued this year. It happened like this in the bottom of the seventh inning:

FSU started the inning down 4-1 with three outs left. Sherrill started it off in fine fashion with a single up the middle. Casas followed with a walk. Morgan fouled out to first for the first out. Mason induced a walk to load the bases. Harrod reached on a fielder’s choice to shortstop to score Sherrill to make the score 4-2 with Mason on second. Shelnutt came up and deposited the first pitch she saw over the left field wall for a walk-off three run homer to give the Seminoles a 5-4 victory and their fifth straight ACC championship.

FSU didn’t need this blast to make the NCAA tournament but I do believe that if the Noles had lost this game they wouldn’t have been awarded a top 8 seed in the Tournament. Therefore they would have likely had to play the super regionals on the road which would have been a much tougher path to the College World Series.

This homerun was also important psychologically to give them confidence that they were never out of a game. The Cardiac Kids got their start with this timely drive by Shelnutt.

Carsyn Gordon hits a walkoff inside the park homerun in extra innings to advance FSU to the regional final

Here is how it happened:

In the bottom of the eighth Carsyn Gordon entered the batter’s box for FSU. On a 3-1 pitch Gordon took an inside out swing and sliced a dipping liner down the right field line. Right fielder Alyssa Rivera took a chance and dove for the ball but couldn’t execute what would have been a spectacular catch. The ball bounced past her to the wall in foul territory. Rivera was on the ground so Casey McCrackin had to race after the ball all the way from her position at second base. Meanwhile Gordon was tearing around the bases. McCrackin eventually chased down the ball and got it to cut off woman Kendall Veach. Veach fired an excellent throw to catcher Courtney Shea but Gordon was already past her for the inside the park walk-off homerun. It was Gordon’s tenth of the year and it gave FSU the 2-1 victory.

FSU didn’t absolutely need this to stay in the Tournament as they hadn’t lost yet when this happened. However, it was such a great moment that I couldn’t ignore it. Also it contributed greatly to the never say die ethos that this team rode throughout the postseason.

Elizabeth Mason crushes a homerun in a College World Series elimination game to keep FSU alive

Florida State was losing to UCLA in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Noles had lost to the Bruins earlier in the tournament so this was an elimination game for them. Mason stepped in and delivered for her team in a big way.

Here’s how it happened:

In the bottom half of the sixth FSU made its move. Morgan started it by blasting the first pitch she saw deep to centerfield. Bubba Nickles tracked it down and put her glove up over the wall and the ball landed in it to rob Morgan of a game tying home run. Casas followed with a single through the right side. Cali Harrod reached after getting hit by a pitch. Cassidy Davis grounded out advancing the runners to second and third. Then came arguably the biggest at bat in modern day Florida State softball history. Elizabeth Mason cranked a 1-2 pitch over the centerfield wall to give the Seminoles a 3-1 lead and ultimately keep the season alive.

This moment speaks for itself. If Mason doesn’t step up the Noles very likely go home.

Jessie Warren makes an unbelievable diving grab in the bottom of the seventh in the finals of the College World Series

This is the only defensive play on the list but it obviously belongs. You may have seen this play (but watch it again because really who can see this too many times?)

Without this gem the Noles would have been facing a tough situation with Washington having runners on first and second with nobody out.

I could have picked Shelnutt’s solo homer for the game’s only run but she is already on the list and FSU really seemed like destiny’s darlings after making this play.

Of course there are many other reasons why FSU had such a great year but these are a few of the most memorable moments that propelled the Seminoles to the winner’s circle.

The Seniors

Florida State will lose four seniors from this year's squad.

Morgan Klaevemann: Klaevemann battled quad and hamstring injuries all season. She also had to deal with the rule change regarding foot placement in the batter's box. Klaevemann's game is predicated on speed and the injuries affected her for most of the year. The rule change forced her to adjust her approach at the plate and that had an affect as well. However, we saw more glimpses of the old Klaevemann - 2017 2nd team All-American - in the WCWS when the umpires mostly stopped enforcing the rule change.

Korina Rosario: Rosario was a player who was often blocked from getting more playing time by all of the talent in front of her at FSU. However, she was always ready when her name was called. She proved that earlier in the season when Klaevemann and Warren were out with injuries. Rosario was the only senior in the lineup for those days and she displayed her leadership qualities in those situations when the team needed her to step up.

Kylee Hanson: As a transfer from FAU Hanson had only one year in Tallahassee but what a year it was. Although Hanson wasn't at her best for most of the postseason FSU absolutely would not have been close to Oklahoma City without her. Hanson was simply dominating for most of the year as her ERA hovered around one for the majority of the season. For that reason she was named a second team All-American. Her decision to transfer to Florida State was one of the main reasons that the Noles were in a position to challenge for a title.

Jessie Warren: I will have a lot more to say about Warren in part 2 of this notebook. However, I will note that Warren took the baton from recent great Seminole hitters like Maddie O'Brien and Alex Powers and took it to another level. Warren is simply the greatest hitter in Florida State history.

I originally planned to put everything into one notebook but this is running long so I’ll split it up. Stay tuned for part two coming soon when among other things we will discuss the status of the program and whether the Noles get enough respect nationally.