BLACKSBURG, Va. (seminoles.com) – The No. 23 Florida State softball team checked one of its preseason goals off their list, earning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title on Sunday after defeating Virginia Tech, 4-3, at Tech Softball Park in Blacksburg, Va.
The victory for the Seminoles (37-15, 16-2) gave them a sweep of the series and locked in a No. 1 seed for the ACC Championship that occurs May 9-11. The tournament will be hosted in Tallahassee, Fla. at JoAnne Graf Field.
Florida State’s regular-season title is the 11th time in program history it has held or tied for the best record in the ACC heading into the conference postseason. The last time the Seminoles were regular-season champions was in 2004. Florida State also owns 11 ACC postseason championships, with the last one occurring in 2011 in Atlanta, Ga.
Sophomore pitcher Lacey Waldrop (19-7) was sharp on Sunday afternoon, changing speeds effectively and limiting the Hokies (27-15, 6-8) to just three runs off six hits with three strikeouts in seven innings pitched. It was Waldrop’s 12th complete-game of the season, as she managed to keep her poise all the way through the end when the Hokies threatened in critical situations.
“With everything we have been through injury-wise, this is a very satisfying feeling. However, there is plenty of softball to be played,” head coach Lonni Alameda said. “We’ve got a big series at Georgia Tech next week and must focus on the rest of the season, but I am proud of this team for wrapping up the regular-season title in our conference. I think it speaks to the testament of this team’s character with what we have been through, and I’m very proud of every player on this team.”
Waldrop kept her cool well in the bottom of the seventh with Florida State clinging to a 4-2 lead. She started the inning by forcing a groundout from Bkaye Smith, but allowed a double to Lauren Gaskill with one out. Waldrop came back by striking out Kat Banks, but Virginia Tech’s Courtney Liddle hit an RBI single through the right side on a 3-2 pitch to cut the deficit to 4-3.
Virginia Tech finished the game hitting just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-13 with runners on base, stranding seven runners overall.
With Liddle on first base and the game-winning run at the plate in cleanup batter Kylie McGoldrick, Waldrop forced a pop-up to shortstop Maddie O’Brien for the game-ending out. The play fittingly ended with the ball in O’Brien’s glove, as she was once again sensational fielding balls at different angles all afternoon, recording six assists.
Although Florida State produced two base hits on the day to equal its lowest in conference play, it only needed a few unlucky plays by the opposition and quality pitching from Waldrop to pull out the win. Three of Florida State’s four runs scored were unearned, with all three occurring in the fifth inning largely by Hokie pitcher Kelly Heinz’s (13-5) two-run throwing error off the bat of O’Brien.
The combination of Virginia Tech’s Heinz and Maggie Tyler allowed just two hits and one earned run in seven frames. The Seminoles used eight walks to their advantage, with Kelly Hensley and Bailey Schinella getting two apiece. In five of the seven innings, a Florida State leadoff batter found a way to reach base.
Senior Morgan Bullock went 1-for-3 Sunday, stretching her hitting streak to 10 games and her reaching base streak to 16 games. Bullock’s bat has helped the Seminoles immensely down the stretch, hitting .484 (15-for-31) through the course of her hitting streak.
The Seminoles executed a first-and-third base running play in the top of the first inning. With Victoria East on third base and two outs, Hensley walked to first base. A few pitches into the next at-bat, Hensley baited pitcher Heinz into trying to get her out advancing to second base, and Hensley bought enough time to help East advance home as the tag was missed at home plate.
Virginia Tech put a runner in scoring position in the second inning. McGoldrick led off reaching base on a fielding error at second base, then was sacrificed over to second base on a bunt. After a groundout by Logan Spaw pushed her to third base with two outs, O’Brien made a nice play on a grounder in the hole off the bat of Amanda Ake to prevent any runs from crossing the plate.
Bailey Liddle led off the third inning with a single down the right field line, and reached second base following a fielding error in right field. Two batters later, Lauren Gaskill doubled to left center to bring home Liddle and tie the game. The following batter in Kat Banks then recorded a slow-roller to Waldrop, who tried to get the force out at third base but her throw sailed wide of Courtney Senas and allowed Gaskill to score from second base. The two errors by the Noles helped Virginia Tech to a 2-1 lead through three innings.
A two-run error by Heinz in the circle allowed Florida State to retake the lead in the fifth. With runners on first and second base with one out, O’Brien hit a slow-roller to the pitcher, who went for the out at first base but overthrew her first baseman on an underhand toss. Pinch runner Courtney Adams scored from second base and Bullock raced around from first base to score the go-ahead run.
After O’Brien reached third base on the error, Hensley stepped to the plate and recorded a sacrifice fly to right field to give Florida State an insurance run at 4-2. The sacrifice hit would prove important as the Seminoles won the game by one run, their fourth one-run victory of the season.
Florida State’s three-game series at Georgia Tech next weekend ends the regular season. The Noles battle the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta beginning Saturday, April 27, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The Sunday finale takes place at 1 p.m., and all games will air on ESPN3.