#5 Washington (52-8, 15-8 Pac-12) faces #6 Florida State (56-12, 21-3 ACC) for the 2018 NCAA Softball National Championship series starting tonight at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
The Huskies are making their 4th appearance in the national championship in program history. Prior to the NCAA making it a 3-game series starting in 2005, Washington lost to Arizona in 1996 and lost to UCLA in 1999. The Huskies swept Florida in 2009 for their only national title.
Florida State has made a number of WCWS appearances, but this is the first time that FSU has ever made the NCAA championship game. In 1981 and 1982, Florida State won softball national championships, but with two key differences: under the AIAW instead of the NCAA, and in slowpitch instead of fastpitch. NCAA fastpitch as we know it began in 1983.
Washington is bidding to become the first team to go undefeated (10-0) in the postseason since 2013 Oklahoma. Meanwhile, FSU looks to be just the third team ever to start 0-1 at the WCWS and still win the championship (1983 Texas A&M and 2003 UCLA).
- Monday, 4 p.m., ESPN
- Tuesday, 5 p.m., ESPN
- Wednesday, 5 p.m., ESPN
Washington will serve as the home team for games 1 & 3 (if necessary), while Florida State will be the home team for the middle game.
The most likely pitching matchup seems to be Gabbie Plain (22-4, 0.98) vs Meghan King (24-6, 1.22)
FSU has two pitchers they go between, lefty King and righty Kylee Hanson. Both throw with very good but not quite elite velocity, in the 69-70 range on their fastball, similar to UW’s Taran Alvelo.
Hanson pitches somewhat like Alvelo minus the changeup. She uses mostly fastballs, with her main out pitch being the riseball above the letters. She’ll throw a drop as well to keep the hitters from guessing hard every time, but mostly she moves her fastball around the zone. Hanson has allowed just a .156 BAA, but will give up her share of extra-base hits: she’s allowed 14 homers among 42 total XBH.
I would expect to see King get the start. She’s pitched much better than Hanson in OKC, throwing 4+ scorless innings vs UCLA on Thursday before the Bruins got to Hanson in their comeback. She also held the Bruins to 1 run in a complete game in the first game yesterday. (Former OK State player) Michele Smith described her on the broadcast yesterday as a pretty versatile pitcher, able to throw fastball, rise, drop, and change when she needs to. Unlike Hanson, she’s quite good at limiting slugging percentage, giving up just 5 homers in 184 innings.
Where can the Huskies get to King? She doesn’t have pinpoint control, as she walks about 2 hitters per 7 innings and has plunked 13. Her BAA is still good at .188, but it’s not in the same tier as Hanson. Her strikeout rate is still quite good at about 7 per game, but she’s not elite at missing bats. If UW faces King, UW needs to focus on making contact, especially with runners on. Move runners over with productive outs and force the good (but not elite) Seminole defense to make plays.
Offensively, leadoff batter 3B Jessie Warren is the all-everything player for the Noles. She holds multiple individual records in both FSU and ACC history, including homers and RBI. Warren (20 HR) along with 1B Carsyn Gordon and 2B Sydney Sherrill (12 each) provide a more significant power threat than Washington is used to seeing.
The edge for UW offensively is lineup depth with on-base and batting average. FSU has just four regular hitters over .300 BA (Warren, Gordon, Sherrill, and RF Zoe Casas). By comparison, Washington has 6 regulars hitting over .320: Bates, Van Zee, Burdick, Thomas, DePonte, and Melhart, with Milloy hitting .315 in significant time off the bench as well.