TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – Entering the game in yet another pressure situation, redshirt sophomore pitcher Jessica Nori’s late-inning relief guided the No. 21 Florida State University softball team to a series victory over rival Georgia Tech by winning 4-3 on Monday evening in a nationally televised game on ESPNU.
Having already come through for the Seminoles (38-10, 12-3) in the first two games of the back-and-forth series, the Weston, Fla., native entered the contest in the sixth inning with no outs and runners on first and second base. As FSU clung to its 4-3 lead, Nori pitched extremely well under pressure and did not allow a hit over the final two frames to complete her third save of the season and keep the Seminoles in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
With the victory, FSU widens its lead atop the conference over North Carolina. The Seminoles’ 12-3 conference record is equivalent to an .800 winning percentage, while UNC’s mark of 9-3 equals a .750 winning percentage. The Tar Heels will have three less ACC games factored in due to their cancellation against Maryland earlier this season because of inclement weather.
Monday’s win means FSU has won its first five conference series this season. The Seminoles have never accomplished such a feat since the conference format expanded beginning in the 2005 season.
While the Seminoles had their chances to pull away again, FSU showed its composure as it hung on for another one-run win in the series. All three matchups with the Yellow Jackets (31-18, 10-5) were decided by one run, as FSU improves to 7-6 in one-run games this season.
“Tonight was an important win,” head coach Lonni Alameda said. “Georgia Tech is an amazing ballclub, but I think it was more important for us to figure out ourselves and learn how to fight. This time of year requires a lot of guts and you have to make plays when you need to. The one-run games are the character-builders and when you’re in the bottom of the seventh with the winning run at the plate, you start to get sweaty palms and that’s what it is all about in the postseason.”
Briana Hamilton was one of the main contributors tonight with two RBIs while going 1-for-3 at the plate. Kelly Hensley finished 2-for-3 as FSU produced nine base hits. Kirstin Austin went 1-for-2 with a walk as she continued her torrid hitting in ACC play, showing a .455 batting average (15-for-33) in conference competition.
Starter Lacey Waldrop (16-3) pitched well, allowing three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts in five innings to earn the victory.
FSU picked up a run in the bottom of the first inning when Hamilton’s well-placed bunt to the right side brought home Tiffani Brown from third base, making it 1-0. The Seminoles manufactured all inning, as Brown led off with a hit-by-pitch, stole second base and advanced to third on Shayla Jackson’s groundout.
Georgia Tech picked up two runs in the top of the second, as Katie Johnsky’s single through the right side plated Kate Kuzma to tie the game. Georgia Tech’s Kelly Delashmit then advanced home on a stolen base by Hayley Downs to pull the Yellow Jackets ahead 2-1.
With two outs in the third inning, Hamilton provided a big RBI when she hammered a 2-0 pitch for a run-scoring double to left center, plating Jackson. Jackson kept the inning alive by recording an infield single to the left side, extending her hitting streak to 13 games. The streak is the most by a Seminole this year.
The top of the fourth did not start well for the Seminoles as Kuzma doubled off the centerfield wall on a 1-0 pitch to lead off the inning. Karly Fullem then pushed Kuzma to third base on a sacrifice bunt, and Johnsky followed with a shallow fly ball just beyond the infield that Tiffani Brown hauled in on a basket catch, as Kuzma failed to advance on the play. The inning ended when Waldrop induced Hayley Downs into a groundout at first base.
A couple crucial runs were scored by FSU in the bottom of the fourth inning. A leadoff walk by Austin followed by singles from Hensley and Erika Leonard loaded the bases with no outs. Celeste Gomez then stepped to the plate and fought off an inside 1-2 pitch for a fielder’s choice RBI as Austin failed to get thrown out at home plate. Amber Bryant then provided an enormous hit with an RBI single up the middle to make it 4-2.
Ahead by two runs and still no outs in the fourth with the bases loaded, FSU was unable to get any more across the plate following two fielder’s choices to home plate and a popout, keeping Georgia Tech’s chances alive.
The Yellow Jackets would respond in the sixth when Ashley Thomas’ RBI groundout cut the deficit to 4-3. Waldrop would come back to strike out Kelsi Weseman and eventually got Hope Rush to ground out to third base to end the jam.
One of the game’s most pivotal plays occurred in the sixth inning on the defensive end for FSU. With two runners on and no outs, Nori relieved Waldrop and immediately induced a lineout by Johnsky to left fielder Kirstin Austin, who proceeded to make a pinpoint throw to third base as Kuzma was tagged out on the double play.
The game’s final inning was tense again in the top of the seventh. Chelsie Thomas reached base on a fielding error at first base, then advanced to second base with one out for one of the ACC’s top batters in Weseman. Nori ended up striking out Weseman on a 1-2 pitch, and struck out Alysha Rudnik swinging to end the game.
FSU turns around quickly for a difficult mid-week road trip as it travels to No. 22 LSU for a Wednesday matchup beginning at 7 p.m. E.T. The Seminoles travel to Troy for a game on Thursday at 5 p.m. E.T.