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WCWS Game 12: FSU Powers Past Tennessee, Set Up 2021 Finals Rematch

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Bethaney Keen had never hit a home run in a Florida State uniform. It had actually been 753 days since the defensive specialist had hit a home run. Yet on the biggest stage in softball, Keen’s solo home run in the third gave the Seminoles a lead they never relinquished.

Florida State held on to beat Tennessee 5-1 on Monday to advance to its third Women’s College World Series finals in the past five seasons.

The Noles had a plan against Lady Vols starter Payton Gottshall. They attacked the inside pitches Gotthall offered. But the pitch to Keen caught too much of the plate and she lifted it out to give Florida State a one-run lead.

“Yeah, again, 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. Now (Keen) will become a legendary story for us,” Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. “As a coach, have you this dictionary of moments that you can share with underclassmen when they came in. (Keen) still gets after it in the cages. Huge swing for us today. It’s neat to see they really enjoy each other as teammates, spend that time, have that moment and opportunity.”

Keen started the rally in the fifth. Her single would lead to the third run of the game as her pinch runner Autumn Belviy scored on a two-out base hit from Jahni Kerr. It was only the fourth multi-hit game of the season for Keen.

Keen’s homer was the second of the night for Florida State. Catcher Michaela Edenfield watched Gottshall miss her spot low to make it a full count. Gottshall tried going to the same spot but missed over the heart of the plate. Despite Edenfield opening her hips a bit too soon, she displayed her strength managing to still hit out the game-tying home run in the second.

The power didn’t start there. Hallie Wacaser got to an Ashley Rogers riseball and sent it out for a two-run blast for a pair of insurance runs in the sixth. Rogers had thrown a first-pitch changeup and Wacaser sat on the riseball that stayed in the zone.

Florida State doesn’t hit a ton of home runs. But it can when it needs to and that’s what the team has done in Oklahoma City. That complete offense has been so valuable to its deep pitching staff.

Part of the reason Keen was at first was because Mack Leonard got the start in the circle. Leonard did well aside from the home run she allowed to Zaida Puni in the first inning. Leonard, a downballer, left a ball up in the zone for the third baseman to crush. Though she responded and didn’t allow another hit in her two-inning outing.

Alameda had a blueprint for her staff against the Lady Vols. She wasn’t going to let them see a pitcher more than once through the lineup. Alameda turned to Makena Reid to start the third with Kiki Milloy due up. Reid sent Milloy back to the dugout with a three-pitch strikeout. It appeared she had sent Puni down on strikes as well but Reid was called for an illegal pitch. She eventually got Puni to ground out.

Though the illegal pitches didn’t go away. Alameda was frustrated in her in-game interview that the calls kept happening despite it not being an issue before. Nevertheless, the freshman didn’t waver. The next two batters after Puni got on but Reid got Mackenzie Donihoo to strike out to end the threat. She threw another clean inning in the fourth.

She was way more composed than I was (laughter). The student teaches the teacher, I guess.

“Again, the consistency. All season she’s been called one time. It was front foot, back foot, front foot. Like who is talking to who right now,” Alameda said. “Strategy-wise as coaches, we get in the umpires’ ears. It bothered me that was happening, next inning there was nothing.

“‘Makenna, can you make this adjustment?’ She did great. Really excited for her maturity. She’s grown a ton this year already. To be in that situation, not let it bother her, was just outstanding.”

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So of course, Kathryn Sandercock came in to close with a lead. The All-American ace did have to face the top of the lineup twice, yet, she had her way. Sandercock sat them down in order with a pair of Ks in the fifth. Then in the seventh, she sealed the win by holding Milloy hitless for the game and Puni to pop up.

Now she’ll finish her collegiate career in the finals.

“I was just so unbelievably grateful just top to bottom,” Sandercock said. “I’m so grateful for Coach and the coaching staff. I’m so grateful that I’m at Florida State. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful for the team. I was really just honestly overwhelmed with gratitude.

“It’s just every athlete’s dream to end their career in a national championship game. I always knew that we could do it, so I’m just really, really, really proud of the team today. Like, I just don’t think that words could even express how happy. I’m just so elated to be playing one more day and getting to put the jersey on one more time.”

What’s next

It’s a rematch of the 2021 finals between Oklahoma and Florida State, in which Oklahoma started its dominant run by taking two of three from Florida State. The two teams met back in March with the Sooners winning 5-4 in Norman. The finals series will start on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

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