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Watson’s start, timely hits and defense spark FSU’s game 1 victory

Danielle Watson may have been the surprise choice to start. But she delivered a clutch pitching performance that kept Oklahoma’s bats off balance.

Watson tossed 5.2 innings, struggling with her control late, Kathryn Sandercock shut the door as the Florida State softball team took game 1 of the Women’s College World Series championship round with an 8-4 win over Oklahoma. Game 2 in the best-of-three series will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. (ESPN), where the Seminoles can clinch their second WCWS title.

“Incredible,” FSU coach Lonni Alameda said. “I think we’ve been blessed with a great pitching staff this year and I think we’ve been blessed with the pitching staff that works together. They know they’re a unit. They know they can bring it anytime. A pitch to the circle that’s needed for the team. And Danielle was waiting for her moment and she was present.”

Before a partisan crowd of 12,173, a championship series record, FSU jumped out to a big lead early and made it stand — just like the Seminoles did on Monday in knocking off Alabama. FSU (49-11-1) did all of its damage in the third and fourth innings while also getting a mix of pitching, defense, timely hitting and, of course, aggressive base running.

Kalei Harding had a two-run homer in the third to put FSU ahead 2-0. She added a two-run double in the fourth, sparking an inning in which the Seminoles broke the game open by scoring all of the runs with two outs. Sydney Sherrill had a two-run single and Elizabeth Mason added an RBI single as the Seminoles took a 7-0 lead.

Kaley Mudge matched Jessie Warren’s 13 hits in a WCWS, a record, and she is 8 for 10 in her last two games. On Tuesday, Mudge went 3 for 5 with a run scored. Mudge had started just 14 games going into WCWS, hitting .258 going into OKC. She is now hitting .341 through Tuesday’s game.

Harding went 3 for 4 and also scored two runs. The freshman moved down to the No. 9 spot in the lineup during the WCWS and has delivered.

“It’s definitely less pressure, especially being a freshman, coming in, playing in front of so many people,” Harding said. “Less pressure in the 9 spot definitely helps. But honestly just keeping a short memory and knowing I can do it. It only takes one pitch. So just believing in myself.”

Watson (12-1) gave up four earned runs on six hits and three wild pitches but also had five strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter. Sandercock picked up her second save, allowing two hits but tossing 1.1 shutout innings.

Kinzie Hansen and Nicole Mendes had back-to-back solo home runs for OU (54-4) in the fourth, while Mackenzie Donihoo added a two-run single in the sixth to chase Watson with two outs.

FSU added some breathing room when Harding’s single brought Muffley home from second, and she was safe on an obstruction call at home plate. Muffley left the game — ESPN reported she was in the concussion protocol — but the shortstop was also walking around the dugout and appeared to be saying she was good to go back into the game.

The coaching staff instead made some defensive adjustments in the seventh, but Alameda said “Josie is great. We had a doc come in and check her out. Make sure she’s OK. She’s going to be OK.”

The Seminoles will go for the title on Wednesday. Since the best-of-three format has been introduced at the WCWS, the team that wins Game 1 has taken 12 of 15 series.

BOX SCORE

The Oklahoma-FSU box score can be viewed here.