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GAME TO BE ACTUAL LIFE, DEATH MATTER

For the Florida State women's basketball team, tonight's game against North Carolina State has far-reaching implications.

The Seminoles (14-8, 4-3) have lost two straight entering the second half of the ACC schedule and need to start stringing together victories if they hope to earn a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

"It's extremely important with everything we've been through this year, we just have to continue to get better as a unit now that we have what we're going to finish with," said coach Sue Semrau, referring to several players back from nine-game suspensions and the academic ineligibility of another for the year. "It has taken some time. I hope it doesn't take too much more time."

But the Seminoles have an even larger long-range hope for tonight: They're shooting to raise $10,000 to benefit the Kay Yow/Women's Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund as they "Think Pink."

"So many people are affected by not only breast cancer but cancer itself," Semrau said. "Kay's fund raises money for folks who can't afford early detection tests and the studies show that if you can detect it early, you can beat it.

"We've had a couple of players on my teams throughout my tenure (here) whose mothers have been affected by breast cancer. One survived and one didn't, so for us it's hit us personally and it's very important to us."

FSU will donate $1 from each ticket purchased and hold a silent auction during the game. Yow, one of the icons in women's basketball, is the coach at N.C. State who had to take a leave of absence in 2006 to fight cancer.

SETBACK FOR RYE: Senior rightfielder Jack Rye, who hit .372 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, fractured his right thumb in practice Friday and is expected to be in a cast at least a month and miss the season's first three weeks.

"It was very sad for all of us because Jack had worked so hard in the offseason trying to become a threat on the bases and a better defensive outfielder and had really made strides," coach Mike Martin said.

While chasing a foul ball early in practice, he jammed his thumb on a pad covering the fence, a play in which even some teammates were yelling for him to "leave it, leave it."

"We have a hurdle to overcome," Martin said.

In the season's first few weeks, the Seminoles, No.12 in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll, play Auburn, Maryland, Georgia and Georgia Tech. Rye could be back in time for the March 18 game at Florida. In his absence, the Seminoles likely will look to junior Ruairi O'Connor (.296, one HR, 22 RBIs in 44 games last season) and freshman Luke Smierciak.

SOFTBALL BEGINS: Softball coach JoAnne Graf begins her 30th season this weekend with lots of questions.

She has to replace standouts Veronica Wootson (.344) at second and shortstop Yuruby Alicart (.324), but she's excited about the potential and promise of freshmen Kristie McConn at second and Ashley Stager at short. "I'm real pleased with how they're coming around and they can be a great combination for four years," Graf said.

FSU also has a new pitching coach, Barbara Sherwood, who has four arms to develop: senior right-hander Tiffany McDonald (17-17, 2.47 ERA), junior left-hander Melissa May (12-4, 2.34 ERA), sophomore right-hander Terese Gober (13-4, 2.71) and freshman right-hander Sarah Hamilton. "That's our strongest position as far as depth," Graf said.

As usual, FSU plays a daunting schedule, beginning with Louisville on Friday in the team's second game in the Early Bird Tournament in Tallahassee.

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

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