Florida State, Alabama are OKC bound
What we learned from some of Friday's super regionals
(Reflects completed games through 10 p.m. ET)
1. Tallahassee Super Regional: Florida State completes its comeback
We knew Lacey Waldrop and Maddie O'Brien were good enough to play on the big stage in Oklahoma City.
Now we can put to rest any suggestion that the team around them is just along for the ride. >
Florida State became the eighth team to lose the opening game of a super regional at home and return the next day to win back-to-back games and reach the Women's College World Series (albeit the first of those teams to do so after ending up on the wrong end of a 17-3 run-rule beating in that first game).
On the brink of elimination, the Seminoles beat Michigan 6-0 on Friday afternoon to force a winner-take-all third game that evening. Down 2-1 in the finale, they leveled the score in the bottom of the fifth inning and completed the series comeback on Courtney Senas' two-run walk-off home run in the seventh, winning 4-2.
Florida State's two All-Americans and player of the year finalists did their part. Waldrop went the distance in both games, allowed just two earned runs in 14 innings and earned a place alongside aces like Danielle Lawrie, who took the ball in similar circumstances and kept pitching until it was time to go to Oklahoma City. O'Brien walked three times and deposited one of the few pitches she had a chance to hit over the fence for a home run in Game 2.
But those two weren't the ones the cameras found in the moments that mattered most in sending the Seminoles back to the World Series for the first time since 2004.
The finale still tied as darkness fell, Michigan loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh on a walk and back-to-back singles. Waldrop helped her own cause by striking out Taylor Hasselbach for the first out, but it was Tiffani Brown who fielded the ensuing ground ball and threw home to force out the potential go-ahead run at the plate, then made a more routine play to get the final out and escape the jam.
And after O'Brien drew her final walk in the bottom of the inning, it was Senas who drove the ball deep into the Tallahassee night. Senas always looks like she's swinging for the fences, but the senior playing her final game at home, win or lose, picked the perfect time to match that cut with the desired result.
Its offense called into question after struggling against South Florida a week ago, Florida State hit five home runs Friday in a park where they don't come easily.
All facets of its game embarrassed in a historic loss a night earlier, Florida State offered a collective response worthy of a place in Oklahoma City.
2. Tuscaloosa Super Regional: More reason to celebrate for Jaclyn Traina
Celebrations and the Crimson Tide's role in them became something of a hot-button issue this season, the result of the exuberance they displayed after clinching the outright SEC regular-season title at Missouri in late April.
But that isn't the reason Jaclyn Traina's time in Tuscaloosa may well be remembered for the celebrations.
It's the sheer volume of them that seemed to occur while she was around.
A night after Alabama freshman Sydney Littlejohn did the heavy lifting in relief of an ineffective Traina, the ace went the distance in a 2-1 win against Nebraska that clinched the Tuscaloosa super regional. Given the gift of a two-run lead before she threw a pitch, she allowed just three hits, one walk and one earned run in seven innings.
That's three trips to the World Series in the past four seasons for Alabama. All three times, Traina was in the circle at the end. All three times she was credited with the win and found herself at the center of the celebration.
This is the ninth trip to the World Series for Alabama, a program that has produced its share of iconic players. None won big games with more regularity than Traina.
It only adds to the legend that the last pitch any person threw in Tuscaloosa before Traina arrived sailed over the left-field fence and left the crowd in stunned silence, a walk-off home run from Hawaii that sealed one of the all-time super regional upsets at the expense of the tournament's top seed that year.
The super regional round is new history. It necessarily excludes a great many of the best pitchers who ever set foot in the circle. But if you're starting to write that history, the pitchers who were in the circle to clinch at least three super regionals and a national championship makes for an interesting chapter.
Until Friday, the list was Katie Burkhart, Danielle Lawrie, Dallas Escobedo and Keilani Ricketts.
Now it has a fifth member.
3. Athens Super Regional: Baylor's big bats bite Bulldogs
By the time the third batter came to the plate in the top of the first inning of the opening game of the super regional in Athens, Baylor had a runner on second base and a run on the scoreboard against Georgia. And the Lady Bears had yet to hit a ball out of the infield or even take a full swing. Kaitlyn Thumann walked and blazed all the way around the bases when Ari Hawkins' sacrifice bunt was mishandled at first base and bounded away toward the outfield grass.
It was quintessential small ball, a style of play not unfamiliar to Baylor. If college programs had coats of arms, Baylor's would surely feature a batter squaring up to bunt and a runner stealing a base.
With an ace like Whitney Canion, especially the way she pitched Friday, one run can go a long way.
Then again, nine runs go a long way, too. Baylor's 9-1 win showcased a newfound fondness for crooked numbers.
Sarah Smith followed the opening bit of small ball with a three-run home run in the first inning. She added a double later and Baylor finished with four extra-base hits. Two seasons after Baylor totaled 67 extra-base hits in an entire season, it has 14 extra-base hits in five NCAA tournament games. Smith's home run gave this season's team sole possession of the program single-season record with 68 home runs. Jordan Strickland added No. 69 innings later.
Baylor isn't Arizona, or even Georgia, when it comes to power hitting. It isn't going to come up with nine runs every game, or even most games, against a pitcher as talented as Chelsea Wilkinson. That much proved true in last week's regional when runs were scarce against Tulsa ace Aimee Creger.
Baylor ranked 14th among super regional teams in slugging percentage entering the round, but it is in the same neighborhood as the competition. That's the change. Better still at this time of year, when it's all hands on deck, the power comes from just about the entire lineup.
When the Lady Bears set the program's previous single-season home run record in 2005, Chelsi Lake, Brette Reagan and Kelly Osburn accounted for 47 percent of the team's total bases. A season later, Lake, Regan and Ashley Monceaux accounted for 44 percent as the program made its first appearance in the World Series. This season, no three players account for more than 39 percent. Smith and Strickland entered Friday's game fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in slugging percentage.
Georgia knows its current position well, forced to win two in a row against NC State on the final day of last week's regional to advance. But duplicating that against Baylor is something else entirely.
Partly because of Canion. Partly because of the offense that supports her.