MOBILE, Ala. (seminoles.com) – The efforts of sophomore pitcher Lacey Waldrop and junior catcher Celeste Gomez ignited the 19th-ranked Florida State softball team to a key 5-2 victory over Mississippi State on Friday evening in the opening game of the South Alabama regional at Jaguar Field.
Waldrop (23-8) put together a dominant postseason performance by fanning 11 Bulldog (32-23) batters and allowing two unearned runs in a complete-game seven-inning performance. Gomez contributed mightily with a towering two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth while being the focus of a wacky two-run scoring play that set the tone for the Seminoles (42-16) early.
“That first game in the NCAA Regional is so important, as they all are. Getting yourself off on the right foot is imperative and we were able to do that today against a good SEC team,” head coach Lonni Alameda said. “I’m proud of the way Lacey pitched. She pitched her heart out, changed speeds so well and stayed poised in the circle. Her performance along with Celeste’s big home run were huge for us today.”
Florida State’s first two runs scored in the bottom of the second may never happen in that fashion again. With Morgan Bullock on second base and two outs, Gomez struck out swinging at a ball in the dirt. With first base unoccupied, Gomez began heading back to the dugout only to realize the ball was still live. Mississippi State failed to recognize that the sequence was not over and did not throw down to first base until a rushed throw was made by catcher Sam Lenahan.
Lenahan’s throw put second baseman Heidi Shape in harm’s way with Gomez running down the line. The two collided when Shape tried covering the bag, allowing the ball to trickle away and Bullock to score. Mississippi State assumed the inning was over and the play did not count, and pitcher Alison Owen tossed the ball in the circle and went back to the dugout. With confusion reigning everywhere, Gomez sprinted around the bases and scored the second run on what was still a live ball.
After the chaotic play was over and put the Noles ahead 2-0, Waldrop continued her mastery in the circle. The Chester, Va. native’s 11 K’s marked her sixth double-digit strikeout performance of the season. Her other double-digit strikeout game against an SEC opponent this season came in the form of 18 K’s at Florida, a career high. Waldrop began the game by striking out five of her six batters faced.
Florida State’s win over Mississippi State was its first opening-game win in the NCAA Regionals since defeating Radford in 2010. The win improved the Seminoles’ postseason record against the SEC to 8-6 all-time.
While Gomez’s home run, which was her 10th of the season, proved to be the game’s biggest blast, redshirt sophomore Maddie O’Brien delivered an important run-scoring single in the bottom of the fifth to extend Florida State’s lead to 5-1. Erika Hoffner led off the inning with a swinging bunt single, then was thrown out trying to advance to third base on Victoria East’s fielder’s choice to third base. With two outs and East on second base, O’Brien wasted no time and drove a hitter’s pitch to right center for a big run-scoring hit.
Any insurance runs would be crucial as Mississippi State fought back in the sixth. Jessica Offutt began the inning reaching on a fielding error, but Waldrop responded by striking out Lenahan following a 3-0 hole. Jessica Cooley then walked to put runners on first and second base, and two batters later Logan Foulks hit an RBI single down the left field line. Briana Bell followed with an RBI infield single to cut it to 5-2, but Waldrop struck out Erin Nesbit to end the inning.
Senior Morgan Bullock registered her 13th multiple-hit game of the season, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Florida State batted 7-for-25 on the evening, while the Bulldogs were 5-for-26.
Florida State awaits the winner of South Alabama and Mississippi Valley State and plays the victor in the first game on Saturday, May 18 at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT. The contest will air on ESPN3.