OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Despite a season-long performance that hadn’t been seen in a decade, the Florida State softball team was unable to keep its momentum going as it ended its year with a 7-2 loss to Baylor in an elimination game on Saturday at the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Making a return trip to softball’s biggest stage for the first time since 2004, the Seminoles (55-9) were unable to capitalize at the plate in their two games against No. 1 seed Oregon and Baylor. The Bears (47-16) made somewhat of a surprising start when they decided to go with right-hander Heather Stearns (14-4), who had a quality performance in the circle.
Baylor shortstop Jordan Strickland hurt Florida State with her bat, going 2-for-3 with two home runs and four RBI. She delivered two 2-run shots in the second inning and the sixth, with her final one quelling some FSU momentum that was developing later in the game as it gave the Bears a 7-2 lead.
"What an outstanding venture for our program," FSU head coach Lonni Alameda said. "Hats off to Baylor, they came back. We all came with our backs against the wall and they got some timely hitting and took advantage of some things."
Stearns retired her first eight batters faced in the game and did not surrender a base hit until Alex Kossoff’s well-placed bunt single in the bottom of the third. Throwing in the mid to upper 60’s, Stearns showed overpowering stuff at times and mixed her spots up well on the inside and outside.
Kossoff led Florida State at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a run scored. The ‘Noles had five base hits, including a pinch-hit double by Ellie Cooper off Baylor All-American pitcher Whitney Canion.
The loss ends a prolific season for Florida State, which churned out two NFCA First Team All-Americans in pitcher Lacey Waldrop and shortstop Maddie O’Brien. Waldrop (38-7) took the loss, allowing three earned runs on six hits in four innings pitched. The Chester, Va., native ends her junior season as the most decorated pitcher in school history since Jessica van der Linden.
Waldrop earned several honors in 2014 – the USA Softball National Player of the Year, the ACC Pitcher of the Year, seven ACC Pitcher of the Week awards and an NFCA National Player of the Week honor. She finishes the year with 38 victories, the most in a single season in school history.
The careers of Tiffani Brown, Celeste Gomez, Kelly Hensley, Courtney Senas, Briana Hamilton and Jessica Nori come to a close for the Seminoles. The senior class, which includes two redshirt seniors in Brown and Hamilton, will be known as the veterans that helped restore Florida State’s place among the top programs in the country by guiding it to its first WCWS since 2004.
"We have tears in our eyes here," Alameda added when talking about the seniors. "They have a lot of heart. We go back a long time. We grew up as a family together. I'm going to get teary eyed."
A 1-2-3 top of the first inning did not go without some excitement. Centerfielder Courtney Senas made a great play when she ranged far to her right side and took away a hit from Baylor’s Ari Hawkins at the warning track for the second out of the game. Hawkins lifted the pitch to deep left center and was robbed of a probable double by the Hawaii native.
The Bears piled on three runs in the top of the second inning. Sarah Smith stepped to the plate with two runners in scoring position and recorded an RBI groundout to the left side to put Baylor ahead 1-0. Strickland followed with a two-run home run on an 0-1 pitch to left center, giving the Bears a three-run cushion in the early going.
The Seminoles’ first big opportunity came in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Kossoff delivered a bunt single for the ‘Noles’ first base hit of the game. Maddie O’Brien then came to the plate and walked on four straight pitches, and Brown battled from behind the count to force a walk to load the bases. However, Senas struck out swinging on a 1-2 rise ball inside and up to keep FSU scoreless through three frames.
Hurt by a few two-out RBI singles in its loss to Oregon, Florida State was burned by a few more insurance runs from the Bears when the inning was nearly over. Strickland hit a sharp chopper to third base that was mishandled by Hamilton as she tried to make a back-handed play, allowing Linsey Hays to score from second base to put BU up 4-0. Robin Landrith then laced an RBI single to right field to pad the lead at 5-0.
Florida State ignited a rally in the bottom of the fifth, using a two-run single by Hamilton to climb back into the game. An infield single by Brown loaded the bases with one out for Senas, who hit a sharp lineout to left field for the second out. Hamilton then laced her single to centerfield to plate Kossoff and O’Brien. Kelly Hensley ended the inning with a deep flyout to the warning track in left field to keep the game at 5-2.
The back-breaking play came when Strickland delivered her second two-run home run of the game, this time in the sixth inning, to push the Bears ahead 7-2. The round tripper came with two outs in the frame, their fourth run of the day with two outs.
Florida State had its chance to respond in the sixth, as Cooper led off with a double and Victoria East followed with a walk. However, a flyout by Celeste Gomez and back-to-back lineouts by Kossoff and O’Brien ended the threat. Florida State would then go down in a row in the bottom of the seventh to finish its season.
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