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Pitching, defense lead FSU softball’s hot start

Florida State coach Lonni Alameda felt confident the pitching staff would be deep and would be a strength going into the 2021 season. And they have delivered.

Kathryn Sandercock (1.45 ERA) and Caylan Arnold (1.53 ERA) are two of the top six pitchers in the ACC. Sandercock (12-1) and Arnold (8-4) have kept walks to a minimum, allowing just 12 apiece. Arnold also has 81 strikeouts in 64 innings, while Sandercock has tossed five complete games. But beyond the 1-2 punch of Sandercock and Arnold, the Seminoles can use Danielle Watson or Emma Wilson as a starter or reliever.

“We’ve had different styles of pitchers in the circle,” Alameda said. “And then we’ve only in the past been able to rely on one or two. And now we have four or five. We have a good, solid pitching staff due to COVID (which expanded rosters in 2021). Danielle Watson had a great outing this last weekend. And so now solidifying closers and openers, and kids that can go five, six, seven innings and they’re getting confidence in that. And the defense knowing each pitcher and their tendencies it really showed this weekend.”

FSU (24-6) is coming off a pair of four-game sweeps, at Boston College and then over Notre Dame last weekend. The Seminoles now welcome Duke to Tallahassee for a four-game series that begins on Friday (6 p.m. on ESPNU) and continues with a doubleheader on Saturday before the finale on Sunday. The Blue Devils are 27-6 but dropped three of four in a series at home to Virginia Tech last weekend.

Pitching and defense have been complementary pieces of the Seminoles’ red-hot start. FSU is fielding .979 with just 17 errors in 30 games.

“Really liked how the pitching and defense has really grown,” Alameda said. “It’s a pretty tight unit right now. I have really been happy with that and would like to see that continually stay solid.”

The pitching and defense have masked some deficiencies at the plate. FSU’s .252 batting average won’t impress but the Seminoles have scored 152 runs (nearly 100 more than the staff has allowed). Freshman Kalei Harding leads the team with a .301 average. Preseason All-American Sydney Sherrill hasn’t had as much pop in the bat with no home runs and four doubles, but she has sparked the Seminoles with a team-leading .414 on-base percentage and also leads FSU with 23 runs scored.

“You look at Syd Sherrill,” Alameda said. “She struggled a little bit. And if I say struggle, her on-base percentage is pretty good. But her defense was contributing. She was making plays that are high level that contribute. And so, as a player, sometimes you feel like ‘Oh, man, I’m not hitting. I’m not good.’ No, you are looking good. You’re bringing something to us. That’s really good. And we’ll get this other part figured out.”

Postseason talk

Normally it would be early to discuss a regional or Super Regional in early April. But the conversation has ramped up this week with reporting that the NCAA will predetermine regional and Super Regional sites in May. Bids will be due next week. 

“I’m pretty sure we are putting a bid in,” Alameda said.

The bottom line in the view of coaches and administrators will be to ensure a safe environment as well as a full NCAA tournament. Alameda said there will be a Zoom call later this week to discuss some details.

“If we can play postseason, and they keep the same amount of teams in it, I don’t really care how it looks,” Alameda said. “We’re gonna go play. It’s not something that’s going to be done for the future of softball. I think for us, we’ll talk about it. It’s a hot topic. I just want to be in postseason.”

Alameda felt some of the key factors could be seating capacity, testing protocols and how to accommodate television crews.