The 2023 Women’s College World Series will be a rematch of 2021: No. 3 Florida State will meet No. 1 Oklahoma to play for the title.
Florida State knocked off Tennessee on Monday to punch its ticket to the championship series. The No. 4 Lady Vols jumped out to an early lead with a solo home run by Zaida Puni in the first inning. But that would be all their scoring for the day. The Seminoles responded with a home run of their own to lead off the second, courtesy of Michaela Edenfield, and did not look back from there. With a final score of Florida State 5, Tennessee 1, they cruised to a confident victory.
Here are three quick thoughts:
A Home Run a Long Time Coming for Bethaney Keen
Florida State first baseman Keen started college in 2016. But with injuries, the transfer portal and COVID, her career has been extended, and she’s now finally making her first trip to the WCWS. Which gave her the opportunity for a career-defining moment.
Keen came to the plate to lead off the third inning in a tie game. She has never been much of a power hitter: She hit 13 home runs over parts of four seasons at her first school, South Florida, and had never homered in her two years at Florida State.
Keen waited for her pitch from Tennessee starter Payton Gottshall. She looked at a low strike, then took a ball outside, and when the next pitch was right down the middle, she was ready. Her first home run for Florida State—and her first, period, in more than two years—became the go-ahead run in the game that would send the Seminoles to the WCWS championship.
“Just wanted to get my pitch, stick to my plan, it kind of worked,” Keen said. “It was a really cool moment.”
Her coach elaborated a bit.
“All season long, you talk about how you got to stay in it, stay in it, stay in it. You don't know what can happen,” Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. “Now B.K. will become a legendary story for us.”
(Another) Shining Night For Kathryn Sandercock
This was a complete effort by Florida State’s pitching staff. Mack Leonard and Makenna Reid combined to allow just two hits over four innings. But the most striking performance came from Kathryn Sandercock. The Seminoles brought their ace in to cover the final three innings, and she made it look easy, allowing just one hit while striking out four, including this highly GIF-able whiff:
Crazy stuff from our Acepic.twitter.com/cLQpXjlrxh— Florida State Softball 🥎 (@FSU_Softball) June 6, 2023
A fifth-year senior, Sandercock has been one of the sharpest pitchers on this team since she first stepped on campus, but her role has shifted this year. At the beginning of the year, Alameda told her she would need to start working in relief more: In order to make sure Sandercock would be able to keep contributing down the stretch and into the postseason, she would have to shift her workload from the very start of the season. This meant she made more appearances than she ever had—46—but started fewer games than she had since 2020. Nevertheless, she’s thrived in her new role. A newly minted second-team All-American, she has learned how to adapt her style to close out a game, and she did it excellently on Monday.
“It’s hard to come in a ballgame and close it out. You have to rely on your abilities and experiences. She's been doing it more and more, she's starting to get comfortable with it,” Alameda said. “Everything we thought would be is showing up. It's really cool. Really proud of her to understand that piece on the strategic side. ”
A Show of Slugging and Speed for the Seminoles
Florida State’s three home runs were somewhat uncharacteristic: This team averages fewer than one homer per game. But the Seminoles didn’t take their sudden power surge for granted. Instead, they paired it with the small-ball style that’s been one of their trademarks all year. They stole four bases and displayed heads-up baserunning throughout the night.
“We're very aggressive on the base paths, something we practice all the time,” Alameda said. “We want the defense to stop us. We will err on the side of aggression.”
The most notable contributor here was left fielder Kaley Mudge, who had a steal of second base, one of third and tried to steal home in the seventh, too. (While up by four!) The call was overturned on review; Mudge was ruled out. But it was a display of the kind of aggressiveness that Florida State loves—even if it will need to be adapted against a more capable championship opponent in Oklahoma.
“I think Oklahoma may be a little bit different,” Alameda said. “They've got a little bit more ability in the battery. We're still going to take advantage of our first-to-thirds and second-to-home, getting after the defense. That's what we've been living on.”