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FSU’s Cinderella run in Women’s College World Series comes up short

Florida State’s remarkable postseason run finally comes to an end in a loss to Oklahoma, and the most explosive offense ever seen in college softball.
Oklahoma's Tiare Jennings (23) scores on a wild pitch in front of Florida State catcher Anna Shelnutt (13) in the third inning of the final game of the Women's College World Series Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma's Tiare Jennings (23) scores on a wild pitch in front of Florida State catcher Anna Shelnutt (13) in the third inning of the final game of the Women's College World Series Thursday in Oklahoma City. [ SUE OGROCKI | AP ]
Published Jun. 10
Updated Jun. 11

History will likely recall them as mere footnotes. A final, faceless opponent on Oklahoma’s way to inevitable glory.

And that would be a shame, because this Florida State softball team deserves so much more.

The Seminoles may have come up short 5-1 in Thursday’s winner-take-all game of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, but that should not be the lasting memory of the 2021 team.

This is a team that outlasted and outperformed a handful of higher-ranked teams on the way to the title game. A team that had few of the gaudy stats or individual honors that Oklahoma had but still gave the Sooners a scare in the three-game series. A team that, ultimately, proved FSU’s 2018 title was the beginning of something and not the culmination.

“I hope all the (ESPN) viewers saw how much passion we have for the game,” FSU coach Lonni Alameda told the Tallahassee Democrat. “We’re gritty. We love playing, and we play for the bigger picture. I hope that they saw that, and it was two completely different storied teams coming in here. I think it also shows that you can do it different ways when you get to the final championship.

“OU got it. They’re an awesome team, but we are, too. And we fought to the very end.”

Even so, no one outside of Tallahassee should have been surprised by the WCWS outcome. This was no ordinary No. 1 team the 10th-ranked Seminoles were facing. Oklahoma put up historic offensive numbers in the spring and did not slow down much in the postseason.

The Sooners set the NCAA record for runs and home runs in a season, despite playing fewer games than many of the top teams of the past. The team batting average going into Thursday’s finale was .407. For comparison, FSU’s was .261.

Oklahoma (56-4) scored more than twice as many runs per game as Florida State (49-13-1) and hit more than four times as many home runs. And while FSU’s pitching staff was among the best in the nation, OU’s numbers were slightly better there, too.

“I’m just so proud of the team to be here and everything we’ve gone through this year to persevere and to be in this moment is what we dreamt of,” FSU centerfielder Dani Morgan said. “I’m just proud of this team. We were able to get here and give everything we had.”

So when Jocelyn Alo, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, crushed a home run to leftfield two batters into the first inning on Thursday, it was hard not to feel as if this was the prelude to a coronation.

The Sooners got a solo homer from Jayda Coleman in the second inning before the Seminoles mounted a mini-rally in the third with a single run on a walk and a pop fly lost in the sun. The optimism of a 2-1 deficit did not last.

Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings led off the third with a single, and Alameda made the curious decision to take out starting pitcher Danielle Watson and have freshman Emma Wilson face Alo. Florida State had thrived most of the season behind the pitching of Watson, Kathryn Sandercock and Caylan Arnold, with Wilson throwing only 20 innings.

The move worked briefly with Alo grounding out, but Wilson eventually walked two batters, threw a wild pitch and gave up a double to Coleman as Oklahoma built a 5-1 lead.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles hitters were being shut down by Giselle Juarez, who was forcing pop-up after pop-up.

“She’s mixing speeds,” Alameda told ESPN during the broadcast. “We’re getting under all of them.”

The world may not remember this in the coming years, but Florida State was six outs away from one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history. The Seminoles beat Oklahoma 8-4 in the opener and had a 2-1 lead going into the sixth inning of Game 2 before an Alo home run forever changed their fortunes.

So while the destination may not have been what FSU was hoping, the journey was impressive enough. There was the unbeaten run through the regional, where the Seminoles gave up only two runs in three games. After that, FSU played eight consecutive games against the Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 11 teams in the nation, and won seven times.

In the end, Oklahoma was too much for Florida State to handle. And every other team in the nation could relate.

FSU came up short in 2021, but the Seminoles left a lasting impression of their own.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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