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Better Know an Opponent: Florida St

Helm’s Deep. Tallahassee. Same difference.

One is the loneliest number
Chris Parent, lsusports.net

It is all house money now.

Look, LSU softball wasn’t supposed to make a run through the SEC tournament. They weren’t supposed to earn a national seed, and they weren’t fully expected to finally slay their longtime postseason nemesis of ULL. So now there’s no way the Tigers are going to go into Tallahassee and beat the heavily favored Seminoles.

Florida State Seminoles

Tallahassee, FL

Record 51-6-1

RS/RA 417/110

RPI 7

Florida St. went undefeated in ACC play. Read that sentence again. Now, there’s some caveats there. The highest ranked team in the ACC in the RPI, other than FSU, is North Carolina at #34. The ACC is not a particularly great softball conference. Nor is it the Sun Belt. Undefeated in conference play is undefeated n conference play.

The Seminoles have outscored the opposition by over 300 runs this season, which works out to roughly five runs per game. This is a team used to beating other teams’ heads in. So let’s look for a few cracks in that façade.

First off, the Noles are just 4-3 against SEC teams this season. See those six losses? Half of them came against the SEC, which gives us an idea of what FSU’s gaudy record would look like if they had to play in a conference that sent eight teams to the Super Regionals.

Two of those wins were over Georgia last weekend in their regional. Nothing against that accomplishment, but the Bulldogs finished dead last in the SEC, going 6-18 in conference play.

In the regular season, Florida St. split the season series with both Florida and South Carolina, with both losses coming on the road, and lost to Texas A&M at a neutral site. Florida St is a good team, but they aren’t invincible. However, they are a tougher out at home. Florida St. has not lost a home game all season.

The other big red flag for Florida St is that the last time they ventured outside of conference play, they got swept. FSU travelled to Eugene for the first weekend in May to prepare for the postseason, and Oregon took all three games, giving FSU half of their losses on the season.

Now, Oregon is a great team. There’s a reason they are the #3 seed in this tournament. But it seems there’s a pretty big gap in #3 and #4 in the national seeding.

The Offense

The Noles want to run you to death. This isn’t quite a team full of slap hitters, they did hit 71 homers and slugged .554, but they also had 58 sacrifices and stole 107 bases on 132 attempts. The contrast of these two styles can be seen in their best two hitters.

CF Morgan Klaevemann is the prototype leadoff hitter. She hit 424/505/475. Of her 67 hits on the season, only 6 went for extra bases, and none over the fence. She is the slappiest of slap hitters, but she’s a dangerous threat because she makes an out less than the half the time she steps to the plate. And then she has 36 steals of 41 ttempts. It puts the defense on their heels right away.

On the other hand, there’s the very next hitter in the order, 3B Jessie Warren. She has a 419/539/948 line and she has bashed 23 homers and 67 RBI. Yeah, she’s accounted for about a third of the team’s homers. The goal is simple for LSU pitchers: keep the top two hitters off of the basebaths.

It’s not like things geteasy from there. Florida St has five other hitters slugging over 500, and five hitters with an OBP over 400. This team gets on, and they can hit for decent gap power. There’s also three players with at least 10 steals, which just misses Dani Morgan and her 9 steals on 9 attempts.

There are no easy outs.

The Defense

Florida St splits their workload pretty evenly amongst their top two pitchers, and its unlikely anyone else will step on the mound, barring a disaster. Jessica Burroughs has a 1.10 ERA and a sparkling 254/27 K/BB ratio. Meghan King is not quite as spectacular, at 1.50 and 123/37. Georgia was able to touch up King for 5 runs, though, so that is encouraging.

The defense does a good job of converted batted balls into outs, but the goal for LSU here is going to be trying to make them do just that. The Seminole defense relies heavily on the fact their aces get a ton of strikeouts, so you have to do everything you can to not give away those outs.

Sure, they are going to get their strikeouts. That’s nearly unavoidable. But nearly a quarter of all at bats against them end in a strikeout, and that’s way too high of rate to generate offense. Florida St’s defense made just over 1000 outs for their top two pitchers, and 377 of them were by the K. Make the fielders make plays to convert outs.

Tiger Bait?

There’s some vulnerability here. I don’t want to say FSU is a paper tiger, because that isn’t true, but they also aren’t quite as good as their numbers indicate. They have not dominated top tier competition. LSU is a deserved underdog, but playing FSU is no different than playing Auburn or Tennessee, two teams LSU beat in the SEC tournament.

This series will likely hinge on whether Bailey Landry can rediscover her stroke, as she had a miserable series at the plate last weekend. It was great for the back of the order to step up, but LSU needs its stars to be its stars. Which means Emily Griggs needs to keep up some semblance of her recent hot streak.

More importantly, it comes down to the health of Carley Hoover. When she is on, she is one of the best pitchers in the nation. She gave a peak of that form last weekend, but she still got herself into trouble before digging herself out of it. FSU will convert those chances. She needs to be even more effective, as does Walljasper.

This is a winnable series, but it’s a huge uphill climb. The biggest issues are Florida St’s speed disrupting the LSU defense, the Seminoles two aces, and that home crowd. Did I mention they haven’t lost a home game all season? Now, LSU needs to give them two home losses if the Tigers are to move into the WCWS. No pressure. It’s all house money.