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Florida State Dominates WCWS Championship Series Game 1

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Softball Twitter)

Women’s College World Series Championship Series Game 1: Florida State 8, Oklahoma 4

Florida State seems to find a new hero every night in its quest for a second national championship. Tuesday’s star was freshman Kalei Harding.

Harding sent out her first home run of the NCAA Tournament in the third inning. The nine-hole hitter started the run barrage for the Seminoles, who clearly still had hot bats. In Florida State’s five-run fourth inning, Harding also hit a two-run double for her third and fourth RBI of the night. She also had the base hit that scored Josie Muffley in the top of the seventh inning on an obstruction call.

“It's definitely less pressure, especially being a freshman, coming in, playing in front of so many people,” said Harding, who has hit better since being in the nine-hole. “Less pressure in the nine-spot definitely helps. But honestly, just keeping a short memory and knowing I can do it. It only takes one pitch. So just believing in myself.”

The Florida State momentum didn’t start from Harding’s bat, but rather her right arm. Oklahoma’s Nicole Mendes reached second base following an error and a wild pitch to open the second. Grace Lyons lifted a ball to right field, appearing to advance Mendes over to third base. Harding had other plans, however. The right fielder camped under it and threw a strike to double up Mendes, who was trying to tag up.

“Kalei has been amazing all season,” Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. “She's had a big role for us as a freshman. She's played a lot of different positions. She's been in the top of the lineup for most of the season and has done incredible and I know at this point in the season she's almost like a sophomore...It's a whirlwind after the game as a coach you get to this time of year and your heart is just so full when they get opportunities to be on the big stage and get after what they want to get after.”

The Seminoles once again had their two-out magic working on Monday night, scoring five runs down to their last out in the fourth. Kaley Mudge had a three-hit night, tying the Women’s College World Series record with 13 hits overall. Sydney Sherrill and Elizabeth Mason, two members of the 2018 national championship team, combined to drive in three runs.

Despite falling behind 7-0, Oklahoma, and everyone who has followed softball this season, knew the fall was far from over.

Kinzie Hansen and Mendes hit back-to-back bombs as a response in the home half of the fourth. The hottest hitter in Oklahoma City, Mackenzie Donihoo, cut the deficit to three with a two-run double in the sixth.

Jocelyn Alo ripped a ball into the gap in the seventh. Tiare Jennings rounded toward home in hopes of bringing the Florida State lead back down to three. She had no chance against this flawless relay from the combination of Dani Morgan, Anna Shelnutt and Sherrill.

Alameda surprised a lot of people writing in Danielle Watson as her starting pitcher over Kathryn Sandercock or Caylan Arnold. The Louisville transfer sure made her coach look like a genius. Watson grinded through 5.2 innings before making way for Sandercock.

“I think we've been blessed with a great pitching staff this year and I think we've been blessed with the pitching staff that works together,” Alameda said. “They know they're a unit...And Danielle was waiting for her time and she was present. She was completely composed in some big moments...And that's something that we've worked on all season for her. And just, I mean, we all knew she had it in her, and the opportunity to give it to her and she shined.”

Alameda’s chess move means that unlike the three other teams that defeated the Sooners this season, she didn’t technically overextend her “ace.” Sandercock only faced six batters and Oklahoma didn’t see Arnold. The adjustments the Sooner lineup has made throughout the season will now be a little tougher to make heading into Wednesday.

The second game of the championship series will start on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN.

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