As you may have heard, Florida State was eliminated in the Tallahassee Regional of the NCAA Softball Tournament yesterday. This development left many FSU fans upset, disappointed, and confused among other emotions. In the wake of such a shocking result it is time for another edition of the Seminole sports notebook.
These are real questions posed by real people in the sense that they are actual questions (they end in a question mark) and I am a real person. I have written all of the questions.
How would you characterize what happened this weekend in the Tallahassee Regional?
Florida State failing to advance from the Tallahassee Regional was disappointing, shocking and devastating (especially for those close to the program) but as we will discuss later it doesn’t detract from the fact that the season as a whole was an undoubted success.
I will address the elephant in the room. Yes, what happened yesterday was a failure. We shouldn’t sugarcoat it. Florida State was very deserving of the overall #2 seed based on the entire body of work over the season. With all due respect to the Bulldogs, FSU is a better team than Mississippi State and as we will discuss shortly the Seminoles had everything lined up well for success in this regional.
Therefore, not being able to close the deal is a failure but we should keep things in perspective. It was one bad day. While the Seminoles certainly didn’t play perfectly, Florida State didn’t play particularly poorly (only two errors combined in both games) but the Seminoles played a team in Mississippi State that got just enough luck and combined with gritty play was able to gut out a regional clinching victory.
Coach Lonni Alameda put it well in the post game press conference, “It’s definitely not the definition of our season by any means or the people to my right and left. It’s more about today was Mississippi State’s day, nothing went for us. Tip your hat to them and wish them luck as they move forward.”
However, the program is not a failure, this team (Team 39) is not a failure and the players on the team are most certainly not failures. Up until Sunday the Noles were enjoying almost a dream season. Before Sunday Florida State was 54-5, they were ACC Champions and had a 16-2 record against the current RPI top 25. Florida State is an elite team that had a bad day at the worst possible time.
What makes it even worse (if that is possible) is that the Noles really had things breaking their way before Sunday. They beat an inferior (but scrappy) Howard team. Then they got South Florida without All-American and national player of the year candidate Georgina Corrick who had a back injury. I’m not sure that USF is better than Howard without Corrick. Winning those games put them in the winner’s bracket so they got to go home while Mississippi State was at the ballpark until after midnight. Then they moved Sunday’s games up two hours because of weather concerns (less rest for MSU). And to top it all off Missouri (the 15th seed that FSU would have faced in the Super Regional) got upset and lost their regional as well.
Everything was going just as FSU had scripted it until Sunday happened.
How bad was this loss from purely a softball perspective?
Of course, what makes this loss truly devastating is not the loss itself but the timing of the loss. If these were regular season games losing them would not be great but it would be similar to the Virginia Tech series in April. The Seminoles would lick their wounds, learn from the losses and move on.
However, because these were postseason games there is no moving on for Team 39. The finality of the loss is what makes this really bad.
From a purely softball perspective, losing to Mississippi State isn’t all that embarrassing. It is an upset to be sure. FSU is a top five team (#2 in the polls, #3 in RPI, #5 in the Massey Ratings before the Regional) and MSU is not (unranked, #30 in RPI, #33 in the Massey Ratings after the Regional). However, a team in the thirties is not a bad team. The margin of error against such a team is not all that great. MSU is ranked 30th in the RPI not 130th.
The Bulldogs are a good team. They just had no business sweeping a double header against FSU in Tallahassee. Massey gave MSU a 5.3% chance to sweep the Noles. That is a small percentage but as we unfortunately found out it isn’t zero.
One other point needs to be made. Florida State was a very impressive 10-0 in one run games before Sunday. That is unsustainable. One run games by definition can go either way and for FSU (or any team) to win all of them is too much to ask. Eventually the Noles were probably going to lose a one run game. Unfortunately it happened at the worst possible time.
Where does the program go from here?
At this particular moment I would imagine that the players and coaches are still in shock because no one in garnet and gold thought that this would happen. However, they will pick up the pieces and move forward.
The program is still very healthy. The incoming 2022 class looks good. The 2023 class is shaping up to be even better with a trio of top 15 players already committed.
Lonni Alameda was recently signed to a contract extension so she fortunately isn’t going anywhere and that gives the program the stability that it needs to continue this run of success.
The future is bright but no program is perfect. There are obviously concerns.
Ok. What are the concerns?
This has to be put in perspective. Florida State will be loaded next year. Unless there are a rash of injuries (like on the scale we saw with the men’s basketball team) the Noles will be safely in the NCAA Tournament and will almost certainly be a national seed. Therefore, from the perspective of being a good team there aren’t any real concerns.
However, the bar that has been set by Coach Alameda and her staff is the College World Series. If that is the bar then there are some concerns.
FSU will only lose three seniors in Sydney Sherrill, Danielle Watson and Maegan Tomlinson. There are also five players reportedly in the portal but none of them got significant playing time this year.
Tomlinson is a local player from Tallahassee who provided senior leadership and helped keep things together in the locker room. However, she didn’t see much playing time this year.
Watson was FSU’s clear #2 pitcher this year and was more than solid especially early in the year. However, she sustained a rib injury at some point this year and while she gutted it out and made no excuses it seemed to affect her play later in the season. Coach Alameda reflected on it after the game against Howard, “She (Watson) actually had a rib out the last couple of weeks, so she got her rib replaced back in and now there is a little more fluidity in her motion.” Notwithstanding the injury Watson was quite an effective pitcher for the Seminoles in her three years after transferring from Louisville. She took the ball whenever she was asked and she battled every time she entered the circle. This year Watson was 17-4 with a 2.34 ERA. Also, she is from Osceola, Indiana. She was obviously meant to be a Seminole. Watson was drafted sixth overall in the WPF draft by the USSSA Pride. The 2022 All-ACC third teamer will be missed.
Sherrill is simply one of the very best softball players to ever wear garnet and gold. Her list of accolades is far too long to detail here but she is a three time ACC defensive player of the year, a four time all-ACC first team selection and she has been named to several national All-American teams. Of course, she is the last player from the 2018 national championship team. Sherrill started all 61 games hitting .321/.484/.586 with 9HR and 41RBI. However, it was her defense which will probably be missed the most. As all of those defensive player of the year honors attest, she was a wizard with the glove at the hot corner. Sherrill was the eighth overall pick in the Athletes Unlimited Softball Draft.
My first concern for next year is the same one we have every year for any college team. How will next year’s team replace key contributors who leave? It will be tough to replace these players but FSU does have options. Ali Dubois will step into Watson’s spot in the rotation. She redshirted this year for the Noles. Dubois was a standout for Boston University in 2021 going 25-2 with a 1.05 ERA. If she can even come close to those numbers next year the Seminoles will have a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with Dubois and Kathryn Sandercock.
Replacing Sherrill will be a bit trickier but again there are options. Kalei Harding is a natural third baseman who has been playing right field for FSU since Sherrill had third base locked down. If she were to move to third it would be unfair to expect her to match Sherrill’s defense right away but everyone knows about Harding’s arm and she would likely do well at third especially as she would have the entire off-season to prepare.
Another option would be to move Brooke Blankenship over to third. Blankenship is a natural shortstop but with Josie Muffley playing that position for one more year the staff may feel like moving Blankenship over is the best option especially if they want to keep Harding in right field where she has shown that she is comfortable.
The last option is to look to the transfer portal. Right now I have no idea how active FSU plans to be in the portal but Florida State is a program that would be attractive to a lot of players so we can’t rule out that the staff might look here for a replacement.
The next concern is solidifying the lineup. FSU ranked nationally 20th in scoring, 47th in batting average and 35th in slugging. These aren’t terrible numbers but they could stand to be improved if the bar is the College World Series. At the very least more offense will give this team much more margin for error. In particular, the DP spot was a moving target all season as several players got chances to start there. FSU finally settled on Chloe Culp for the postseason. Culp is a talented player who has battled injuries in her time at FSU and that has been a major factor in why she hasn’t been able to consistently display her talent although she has had her moments to shine:
However, overall Culp only batted .182. FSU could use more consistent production from the DP spot next year to raise the chance to make a return trip to Oklahoma City.
The third concern that sticks out is internal improvement. Florida State will lose important seniors but the majority of the team will return. If the players can continue to improve especially at the plate this team could enjoy another great season.
Finally, what is your feeling about where the program stands right now after Sunday’s disappointing result?
As I said before, the program is very healthy. This program is without doubt top 10 nationally and would have a strong case for top 5. The ACC is getting better (which is of course a double-edged sword) and FSU’s natural rivals aren’t going anywhere. For example, Florida is loading up on recruits and barring de-commitments will almost certainly have the top overall class in the nation in 2023.
Therefore, Florida State is lucky to have Lonni Alameda at the helm. With the guidance of Alameda and her staff (Travis Wilson, Troy Cameron and Kaleigh Rafter) this program should be more than solid for years to come.