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Florida State Survives Chess Match, ’Cocks Say Goodbye To Seniors

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(Photo Courtesy of FSU Athletics)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It wasn’t until the final strike pounded Florida State catcher Anna Shelnutt’s glove that the Seminoles could exhale.

After blowing out the first two teams that they faced in the Tallahassee regional tournament, No. 4 FSU (54-8) got as much as they could handle from No. 25 South Carolina (38-19) in a closely contested 7-6 victory on Sunday afternoon.

While the victory marked the Seminoles’ sixth straight season that they’ve advanced to an NCAA Super Regional, it was by no means a walk in the park for head coach Lonni Alameda and her team, as they took an early 5-1 lead before watching the Gamecocks score five unanswered runs across three innings to briefly take the lead.

Meghan King - who entered Sunday’s start well-rested after tossing just two innings in yesterday’s offensive breakthrough - looked uncomfortable in the circle during the game’s first few innings, being yanked after just 2.2 innings as South Carolina whittled away at the Seminole lead.

But after Makinzy Herzog’s single to left reclaimed the lead for the ’Noles, King got the call to close out the final two innings of the game - and it was that earlier struggle that provided her with the motivation to finish off the Gamecocks.

“I’ve used those moments that I’ve been in this season… to prepare to just spin it one pitch at a time instead of ‘what could happen,’ or ‘could we win this game or could we lose this game,’” King said after the game.

For the Gamecocks, it was a frustrating finish to an especially hard-fought regional. Coming into Sunday’s matchup, South Carolina had played twenty-four innings (including seventeen yesterday), a stark difference between the mere ten frames that Florida State had romped through this weekend.

If fatigue had set in for the Gamecocks, however, it certainly wasn’t apparent as they gave FSU headache after headache throughout Sunday’s affair.

Cayla Drotar had a weekend performance for the books, as the two-way player tossed a shutout against Bethune-Cookman while driving in six runs across all four of her games. Drotar had three hits and two RBIs in Sunday’s game while also pitching the final five innings in relief of Carolina starter Dixie Raley, who exited after allowing five runs in two innings following her 174-pitch complete game victory against USF last night.

Both head coaches cited the maturity and level-headedness of their veteran players, who lit a fire under their teammates when it mattered most.

“When they went ahead, Carsyn Gordon brought the whole team together and calmed them down. When you see leadership start to show within the team, if it’s a player-led program and they have ownership and they’re playing for themselves – it’s our program and it’s their team,” Alameda said of her senior first baseman.

Carolina skipper Beverly Smith noted that her seniors displayed exceptional leadership skills as well throughout the weekend, which made their upcoming goodbye all the more emotional.

“I think they’ve had probably their career best in terms of their performances but they leave that gift with the rest of the team that will return for us next season,” Smith stated.

Though there are just two seniors graduating for the Gamecocks, the direction of their softball program has undoubtedly been shaped by Raley and Kennedy Clark in the past few years.

“I consider her kind of our glue. Our ‘glue gal’ is what I’ve called her,” Smith said of Clark, while also discussing the competitive fire that Raley brought to Carolina after transferring from Georgia Southern.

"They both leave a lot in terms of culture for the Gamecocks.”

Despite the frustrating ending, the Gamecocks were undoubtedly the grittiest team in the regional tournament, as they won two straight elimination games while taking the Seminoles to the limit in their third (and had South Carolina prevailed, they would have faced a fourth).

As Kennedy Clark’s career in Columbia comes to a close, she captured the Carolina spirit in a way that no one else could.

“I’m sad that we’re out but there was no better way to go out - just fighting until the very end,” she said.

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