Column: Alameda has prepared Noles for uncomfortable situations

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Florida State Softball team faces Oklahoma in the third and deciding game of the Women’s College World Series on Thursday, a game the media has billed as a David vs. Goliath battle: The No. 1 Sooners versus the No. 10 Seminoles on Goliath’s home field.

There’s no question this will be an epic challenge for the garnet and gold as momentum swung sharply in the top of the fifth inning when the Sooner bats came alive. A two-run homer off the bat of Jocelyn Alo erased a 2-1 FSU lead. The towering bomb, which almost cleared the slow-pitch fence beyond the outfield bleachers, was like a cattle prod to the sleeping giant. The Sooners ripped base hit after base hit to take a 5-2 lead with six outs remaining in the game and woke the 12,000-plus Sooner fans in the crowd who hadn’t had much to cheer for in the prior 12 innings against the Seminoles. 

Hall of Fame Stadium might as well have been in Norman, Okla., as the Boomer Sooner fight song played on sound system and the crowd went nuts. Really nuts.

Today’s game is the definition of adversity for the average ballplayer, who chooses to see today’s game as a problem, rather than as an opportunity.

Coach Lonni Alameda, herself a three-year starter for Oklahoma, knows very well what her team will face today and what her squad, which looks a head shorter than the Sooner lineup, will need to do to win.

“Believing in each other. I think that is the root of success,” said Seminole first baseman Tyler Martin, who made the 15-hour drive out to see the game with catcher Matheu Nelson. “You love, trust and believe in one another and it is eventually going to work out. Stuff may not be going your way but you keep pushing, you keep battling and that’s what we’ve seen from this team all year. As you can see it is coming to fruition. They have one more game to win and they are champions.”

Martin, the son of Mike Martin Jr. and grandson of “11,” knows a thing or two about games played with a bat and ball but he also admires this culture of this softball team, which has fun playing the game they love.

“They are a lot more optimistic sometimes, I think,” Martin said of a squad that’s always laughing, cheering and pulling for each other. “I think that comes with the experience of the five girls from the championship team in 2018. They’ve been here before. They know how to handle themselves. They know how to battle adversity. It doesn’t matter what gets thrown their way, they are going to keep pushing.”

“We have a coach who is very, very good at balancing the student-athlete experience and the competitiveness. You have your time to be a fan, or be a rock star, now you are a student-athlete and it’s now time to go and get it,” said Cindy Hartmann, Deputy Athletic Director for Administration, who has sport responsibility for softball. “She welcomes the attention and the moments our fans give her but make no mistake Lonnie is a competitor and will have them ready for game time.

“I hear Lonni tell them to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she said. “And she puts people in uncomfortable situations to grow. She does not protect them. You can go out and do this. She is a difference maker on and off the field. Women’s athletics is not just about competing, it’s about something that’s bigger than yourself. She loves them through it but she is not afraid to challenge them.”

One could call today the uncomfortable moment, the challenge, CoachA has been preparing them for.

While Seminole fans will feel the heat and the oppression of being outnumbered in the stands, I’ve got an idea Alameda will tell her team to go make a play, go have some fun.

There’s only nine Sooners on the playing surface, the same field and the same nine players FSU defeated 8-5 less than 48 hours ago. 

New day, fresh start, with the score 0-0 and 21 outs to play. 

It will be the last game of the season. The last game these ladies will ever play together. The last time many of the five seniors – the grandmothers as they are called – will ever play college softball again. 

Just go do what you do.

“It goes back to who people are,” Nelson said of the attitude of this softball team. “Some people let other plays define them. Sometimes they think about the situation, but you watch them on TV and you see someone give up a home run and now they are down, or something big may happen that’s not in their favor but they are still smiling and they are still having fun because it’s in the past and they know they can come back.  

“I think the one thing people need to remember is, at the end of the day, it’s still sports. Whether you are up or down, anything is possible.”

I think Nellie is right.