Versatile staff could give FSU edge in road Supers vs. LSU

Florida State is very familiar with playing softball in the postseason, when the heat (literally and figuratively) is on. The Seminoles are playing in the Super Regionals for an eighth straight time, but one different aspect is playing away from home.

FSU is on the road in the best-of-three Super Regional round for the first time since 2015. With the NCAA allowing for a full house in the regionals and Super Regionals, these are also the first weekends where players are in front of capacity crowds since March 2020.

It’s also a rivalry renewed as FSU and LSU faced off in 2017 (the Tigers won) and 2018 (the Seminoles won en route to the WCWS title). 

“I appreciate this little rivalry that we’ve created,” FSU coach Lonni Alameda said. “It’s always an honor to be competing to be one of the eight teams in the country (at the WCWS). So, yes, familiar with each other. Really like the competition. I love the way that LSU plays, I love the way that we play. I like the history of the programs and the games they’ve had together.”

While many of the players have changed for FSU and LSU through the years, the veterans on both sides remember the wins and losses. One common denominator in the best-of-three format is that LSU took game 1 in 2017 on its way to the Super Regional win, while FSU also claimed game 1 in 2018. (Both of those series went the full three games.)

Super Regional experience is a good thing for a veteran FSU club that features upperclassmen like Sydney Sherrill, Cassidy Davis, Anna Shelnutt, Dani Morgan and Elizabeth Mason. But the Seminoles also have a roster loaded with true and redshirt freshmen who will of course be wide-eyed in game 1 on Thursday at 7 p.m. (ESPN).

“You don’t explain it,” said Mason, a senior. “You just tell the newbies and the freshmen, ‘It’s going to be a dog battle. Give it all you have every pitch and until you’ve been there you don’t really understand what it’s like.’ ”

FSU has had to learn through losing this year, too. The Seminoles were knocked out in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament following its run of six straight league titles. But Alameda and the veterans have used the defeat and turned it into a teaching opportunity.

“A little hats off to the conference and getting better,” Alameda said. “And then, on the other side, we had great talks after that. So sometimes losses are really good opportunities to talk about things in the program, the growth of the program, and really talk about what it’s like to play with a target on your back. And can you do that loosely? And can you be a freshman coming into a program with a target and not feel the pressure and just have fun? Really good growing talks after that series.”

And that extended beyond just the newcomers.

“Losing ACCs has been a strong motivator for us,” Mason said. “Obviously, we weren’t going to maintain this winning streak (in the ACC Tournament) forever, but it’s kind of heartbreaking to be the team to lose it. But I think we were just holding on to it so tight that we kind of lost sight of the fun part of it playing loose. So we’re just kind of flipping that around, trying to have more fun, play loose, trust in the process and the work we put in. And it has been a lot of motivation for us coming into regionals and now Super Regionals.”

Alameda didn’t offer up a starting pitcher for game 1 but that’s also because the trio of Kathryn Sandercock, Caylan Arnold and Danielle Watson have been effective in various roles. It may seem like a surprise if Sandercock (23-2, 1.15 ERA, eight complete games) doesn’t start on Thursday, but it’s also a reflection of the flexibility and confidence that Alameda has in Arnold (10-6, 1.60 ERA) and Watson (9-1, 2.24 ERA).

“You can start one pitcher and try to work stuff on the ground and bring in another pitcher to get stuff up in the air,” Alameda said. “Or you could say I want to keep the speedsters off the bases, so just trying to do some matchups. But I think it’s also doing what the game gives us. And I think we’ve done a good job of starting Danielle, Caylan and Kat and bringing in Danielle, Caylan and Kat. They’re comfortable doing both. And the defense is comfortable too. So we’ll see what the game gives us and then we have the opportunity to bring that out of the bullpen.”