They were six outs away from claiming the 2021 national championship.
Six outs from becoming the first softball team to defeat No. 1 Oklahoma twice this season.
But within minutes of falling short of those accomplishments, the Florida State Seminoles were far less upset about those missed opportunities than they were excited about the one still before them.
“It’s tough coming off a loss right now,” said FSU ace Elizabeth Sandercock, who fell to 27-4 on the season after Wednesday’s 6-2 defeat. “But when you look in the big picture, we’re one win away from the national championship, which is just so cool. … Coming into it, we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We knew they were a great team. We knew they were going to make adjustments in the box. So that’s what we got. That’s what we saw.
“And this is why it’s a three-game series. You’ve got to beat us twice or we’ve got to beat them twice. So we’re ready to get after it tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is now today.
And partly because the Seminoles have been underdogs for most of this postseason, they insist there is no pressure heading into a winner-takes-all WCWS championship series Game 3 against the Sooners (3 p.m. ET, ESPN).
FSU, which took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning Wednesday before surrendering five runs in the final two frames, entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 10 national seed. To get to this point, the Seminoles have had to win six games against higher-ranked teams.
They swept No. 7 LSU on the road just to reach the World Series. Then they knocked off No. 5 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Alabama twice and then No. 1 Oklahoma in the first game of the finals.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here,” said senior first baseman Elizabeth Mason, who gave the Seminoles a 2-0 lead Wednesday with a first-inning home run. “So the fact that we’re here is, to me, it’s just a blessing. To be able to play one more pitch, one more hit … one more inning, whatever the situation may be.
“So it would have been great to win today. But it will be great to win tomorrow too.”
Florida State head coach Lonni Alameda, who led the Seminoles to the 2018 national championship, had a good feeling about her team’s state of mind immediately after Wednesday’s game ended.
Assistant coach Travis Wilson, who is in his 10th season with the Seminoles, gathered the players together for a quick pep talk before they left the field, but Alameda said it might not have been needed.
“At the beginning of the year, if you said we were one of the last two teams in the country, would you want to be in Game 3?” Alameda said Wilson told the players. “Heck, yeah, you would. Let’s go. Flush it. Let’s get home, get some rest, watch a little video and let’s go play for it.”
As Wilson spoke, Alameda watched the players’ faces. She said she could see they were already focused on the lone game remaining, not the one they had just lost.
“I don’t think there’s any negatives (resulting from Wednesday’s game),” Alameda said. “We’re playing for a national title. There’s two teams left. It was a dogfight. They took advantage of some swings. And there were a couple of extra base runners that we allowed to happen. And pitching and defense have been a thing for us.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game. So it’s just more about showing up tomorrow and playing than anything that was negative. I think it was very positive. It was fun. It was a great environment. I thought our team showed up, did great, nothing to hang their heads about, and get after it tomorrow.”
Neither coach shared any information about pitching plans for today’s championship, but Oklahoma is expected to go again with staff ace Giselle Juarez, who is 22-1 and threw a complete against the Seminoles Wednesday.
FSU could go with Danielle Watson, who earned the win Tuesday against the Sooners, or they could hand the ball back to Sandercock. Both pitchers did a very nice job of keeping Oklahoma’s hitters off-balance before faltering in the later innings. Senior Caylan Arnold is another option, but she gave up three hits and one run in 1 1/3 innings of relief Wednesday.
It will be a tall task for whoever enters the circle — the Sooners have set a new NCAA record for home runs this season with 159 — but Sandercock said it’s one the Seminoles embrace.
“It’s so fun,” she said. “It’s what you work for all year long. It’s the position that every pitcher wants to be in. Every pitcher wants to be out here fighting for a national championship. So I’m very grateful to be here. I’ve put in the work. It’s just the whole team has to go after it and get it. It’s super fun. And we’re all just really happy to be here.”
Said Alameda: “It’s do or die. One goes home with a trophy and the other one is the No. 2 team in the country. It’s pretty awesome.”