Oklahoma City, Okla. — It isn’t done yet but the Florida State softball team made quite the statement Tuesday night.
The Seminoles entered the Women’s College World Series championship series red hot, having won their last four games.
But they were facing an Oklahoma team that had also won its last four games — outscoring opponents 31-7 in those games — lost three just times all season in 57 games and was playing essentially a home game 30 minutes from its campus in Norman.
None of that seemed to matter to the “No Quit Noles” as catcher Anna Shelnutt deemed them Monday on Twitter.
The No. 10 Seminoles (49-11-1) beat the top-seeded Sooners’ (54-4) at their own offensive game in the opening game of the WCWS championship series, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on the way to a 8-4 victory in front of a crowd of 12,173 fans at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
With the win, the Seminoles are one victory away from their second national championship in four years. They need to win just one of the next two games in order to accomplish that. The first of those games will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. If necessary, Game 3 would be Thursday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN).
An unlikely player sparks the lineup
A trademark of FSU’s run through the loser’s bracket of this year’s WCWS has been different players rising to the occasion in key moments at the plate.
This proved to be the case again Tuesday as freshman right fielder Kalei Harding, a capable hitter who has struggled this postseason, had her turn in the spotlight.
Harding opened the scoring in the third inning with a two-run homer to left field in her first at-bat of the game. It’s her first home run of the NCAA tournament and her sixth of the season.
This home run came right after Harding made a sensational defensive play in the bottom of the second. With a runner on second base after an error by second baseman Devyn Flaherty, Harding made a running catch on a fly ball to right and threw a rocket to third base that easily retired the tagging baserunner.
She added to her impressive performance in her second plate appearance in the fourth inning with a two-run double to right-center that doubled the Seminoles’ lead to 4-0.
Entering Tuesday’s game, Harding had five hits in 30 NCAA tournament at-bats (.166) with no extra-base hits and three runs batted in. She finished Tuesday’s game with four RBI, matching her career high.
Redshirt junior third baseman Sydney Sherrill added two more runs on a single after Harding’s hit and Elizabeth Mason added one more on another single the very next at-bat.
In all, the Seminoles scored five fourth-inning runs, all of them with two outs, to run the lead up to 7-0.
FSU’s surprise starter gets it done
It was a bit of a surprise when Danielle Watson was announced as FSU’s starting pitcher for the WCWS championship series opener.
She was the pitcher who closed out Monday’s win over Alabama. But she entered Tuesday having made just 10 starts this season compared to Kathryn Sandercock and Caylan Arnold, both of whom have made more than 20 starts this season.
While surprising, it’s hard to argue with what ended up being a very wise decision starting Watson.
Facing a loaded Oklahoma lineup that entered Tuesday hitting .410 as a team with 155 home runs this season, Watson didn’t allow her first hit until the fourth inning, holding strong while the Seminoles built their sizable lead.
OU finally broke through in the fourth with back-to-back solo homers but Watson kept hanging around, working into the sixth inning.
In all, she allowed four runs on six hits over 5.2 innings, striking out five and not issuing any walks.
With a runner on first and two outs, FSU turned to Sandercock, who has done the majority of the pitching during the Seminoles’ WCWS run.
She got out of the sixth inning with no more runs across, working around an error by Mason to strand two runners.
Sandercock returned to the mound in the seventh. She was tagged for two hits but got an out on one of them as Sherrill made a perfect relay throw to get the runner at home. From there, she got a pop out for the final out, securing her second save of the season.
Reach Curt Weiler at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: WCWS championship series: Florida State wins opener vs. Oklahoma