CLEARWATER — Friday afternoon’s Florida State-Oklahoma game was the most anticipated matchup at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational.
The teams had not only won the past three national titles (the Seminoles last season and the Sooners the previous two years), but also were ranked among the top three in the latest ESPN/USA Softball top 25 poll (FSU No. 1; Oklahoma No. 3).
From the start, Cassidy Davis played a prominent role.
The former Newsome star made her second start of the season on the mound for FSU.
“It was exciting to be there for such a big game,” Davis said. “We have a deep pitching staff, but I feel like I’ll have a big role.”
The junior’s outing was brief. She lasted 1 ⅔ innings, giving up four runs on three hits.
Davis’ biggest impact came at the plate.
In the second inning, she smacked a two-run homer, prompting plenty of cheers from the standing-room only crowd at the Eddie C. Moore Complex.
“We were talking about getting one in the dugout,” Davis said. “I was just waiting for something and was able to get a good swing.”
After crossing home plate, Davis was greeted by teammates, past and present. Former stars Jessica Burroughs and Jessica Warren were in the dugout. Warren, an Alonso graduate, gave Davis a hug after her blast.
“That was pretty cool,” Davis said.
Davis has a knack for delivering in big moments at all levels.
In 2015, she was the starting pitcher in the Wolves’ Class 8A state championship game. In the seventh inning, Davis hit a two-run homer, sealing a 5-1 win for Newsome’s first state title in any sport.
Her homer Friday put the Seminoles up 3-0. The Sooners rallied,eventually taking a 4-3 lead. FSU regained control when Gaither alum Elizabeth Mason added a solo shot in the fourth inning to tie the score at 4. In all, the Seminoles hit five homers to win 7-4 and remain undefeated.
FSU has now won four games against top-10 teams.
Swiping a record
Former River Ridge High star Madisyn Palmer couldn’t manage any forward progress Friday in her pursuit of FAU’s career stolen-base record, but it resumes in earnest Saturday morning.
Palmer, an FAU senior, entered the invitational with 119 career stolen bases, 10 shy of the school mark held by former teammate Emily Lochten. She went a collective 0-for-5 against top-flight Big 12 pitching Friday as the Owls (3-4) dropped consecutive games to Oklahoma and Texas.
That performance hardly epitomized her career. The 2016 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, Palmer earned first-team all-conference honors in 2018, hitting a team-best .387 and breaking her own single-season steals record (48). She entered the weekend hitting .267 with three stolen bases in as many attempts.
“It’s definitely been everything I expected and more,” said Palmer, an aspiring cardiac nurse who graduates in May with a health-science degree. “From the sisterhood to the competition, competing, playing, all of it.”
Curb your enthusiasm
To get an idea just how popular the invitational has been this week, consider the parking lot at the Eddie C. Moore Complex for Fields 1-4 (at the corner of Drew and McMullen), which was full by 9:30 a.m. Friday.
The stands have been packed with fans at both sites where games were held the first two days of the tournament.
Organizers are expecting an even bigger crowd on Saturday. In fact, no tickets remain for that day and organizers are encouraging fans to buy advance tickets online for Sunday.
“The tournament has exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Visit St. Pete/Clearwater CEO Tim Ramsberger said. “It’s the perfect recipe where you have great weather in Florida in February. I thought it would do well, but I didn’t expect to be sold out in advance heading into the weekend. And the comments I keep hearing from the folks at ESPN is that they’re stunned.
Ramsberger said the popularity of the tournament will also drive home the point to continue improving — and expanding — the softball facilities in Clearwater.
“We’re going to have to keep adding to handle the crowds that will only continue to grow with this tournament,” he said.
St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational
16-team college softball tournament; through Sunday; Eddie C. Moore Complex, 2780 Drew St., Clearwater
Saturday’s schedule: Oregon vs. Florida Atlantic, 10; LSU vs. Ohio State, 10; Texas vs. Kentucky, 10 (SEC); Hofstra vs. Oklahoma, 10 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. James Madison, 1; Ohio State vs. Utah, 1; Florida State vs. LSU, 1 (ESPN3); Oklahoma State vs. California, 1 (ESPN3); Notre Dame vs. Minnesota, 4; Hofstra University vs. Oklahoma State, 4; Kentucky vs. Oregon, 4 (ESPNU); Tennessee vs. James Madison, 4 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Tennessee, 7; California vs. Notre Dame, 7 (ESPN3); Minnesota vs. Florida State, 7:30 (ESPN3)
Sunday’s schedule: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, 10 (ESPNU); Minnesota vs. California, 10 (ESPN3); James Madison vs. Kentucky, 1 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Hofstra University, 1 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. Florida State, 4 (ESPN3); Florida State vs. Tennessee, 7 (ESPN2)
Tickets: Tickets are sold out for Saturday. Fans are encouraged to buy tickets for Sunday in advance at stpeteclearwatereliteinvite.com