Just when you thought she had done it all, senior Jessica van der Linden put her team on her back and led them to their second Women's College World Series in the last three years. The All-American pitched both games for No. 4 FSU (61-10) Sunday recording 13 innings of work and limiting No. 12 Oregon (42-21) to just one run and four hits in two games. Her two-hit shutout in the deciding game was a thing of beauty as she retired 20 of the last 22 batters she faced as the Tribe downed Oregon 2-0 to advance to the WCWS for the seventh time in school history.
Van der Linden was dominant picking up her 19th shutout of the year and raising her single season strikeout record to 366. She let just one base runner advance past first and in the final game she struck out eight and didn't allow a single walk. For the regional van der Linden went 3-1 with a 0.24 ERA in 29 innings of work. She allowed just one run and eight hits while fanning 38 batters. At the plate she led FSU hitting with a .462 average, four RBIs and a .611 on base percentage. She was walked five times and all five were intentional. For her efforts, van der Linden was named the NCAA Region 4 most outstanding player in a unanimous vote of SIDs and media.
"Well it is fun to be on the winning end. A gutsy performance and again, it's kind of been our season-long mantra but after losing the first game 1-0 and we didn't really hit the ball until the last inning, the kids just rebounded awesome and they came back," said head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf. "For Jessica (van der Linden) to pitch both games the whole time, I mean what a performance because it was hot, hot, hot out there. She had a lot of guts and I think did a great job and we got enough runs to win the ball game - one more than we need because they didn't even score and that's a credit to our defense and our pitching staff."
"Jess is a real champion, a real fighter," said Oregon head coach Kathy Arendsen. "We saw (USF pitcher) Leigh Ann Ellis throw two games back-to-back yesterday but not in the same circumstances. She's tough. She didn't make mistakes, has great location and probably some of the best poise I've seen. Obviously, how she goes, is how Florida State goes and she was very, very good in the second game."
While van der Linden was doing her job on the hill the Ducks were not going to let her beat them at the plate as they intentionally walked her twice in the championship game after singling in her only at bat. That opened the door for unsung hero Natasha Jacob to step in. The burgeoning sophomore drove in both runs for FSU in the win as she finished the regional hitting .412 with a double and two RBIs in the final.
"Great games. I think these are two incredibly evenly matched teams. In great games like that, it always one mistake or one base hit that makes a difference," said Arendsen. "(Natasha) Jacob was outstanding against us all weekend. She was one of their key hitters against us and she stepped up huge. I didn't even know she had that kind of power but she stepped into one and got it. And that's the difference. That's the way it goes."
After recording just two hits in the first game of the day versus van der Linden and four hits in the last 16 innings, Oregon recorded the first hit of the championship final just two batters in as Breanne Sabol singled to left field but she couldn't get past second as van der Linden fanned the next two hitters.
The Tribe didn't wait long to get their first hit of the day either as van der Linden sent a two-out single up the middle in the first against Ani Nyhus (28-7) but FSU was unable to capitalize. The next Tribe hit came with one away in the third and it was off the bat of LaShaun Davis. Davis moved to second on a ground out before Jacob blasted a double to deep right center plating Davis and giving FSU its first lead of the day. Oregon didn't wait long to make a move in response to the double as they brought Amy Harris into the game after intentionally walking van der Linden for her third IBB of the weekend. Harris then got Palmer swinging at strike three as Oregon continued to have the big hitter's number this weekend.
"LaShaun (Davis) came up with a great hit," said Jacob. "The whole game I was kind of topping the ball and I was looking for something to drive in the outfield and the outfield was playing in, maybe anticipating the slap or something. I saw a pitch that I liked and I just drove it. I was thinking, 'Please drop, please drop.' It was hanging for awhile but their outfield was playing pretty far in and I was just wanting Shaun (Davis) to score."
"After the seventh inning in the first game, I was a little upset that I didn't come through (leaving the bases loaded) but in the next game, I was still just as confident and I knew we were going to have to get it done a different way," said Davis. "I knew in the second game, we'd get it done and I had the opportunity to help. It was great. I was so happy because I knew that after I made it to second base; I knew Tasha could do it or whoever else came behind. I have a lot of confidence in my team and I knew if I could just get on base and get us going, we'd score."
Van der Linden continued to do everything in her power to help the 1-0 lead stand up as she retired 14 straight batters after giving up a hit in the first inning. FSU was unable to break through versus Harris either until the bottom of the fifth when Veronica Wootson chopped a single down the third base line and got all the way to third on a throwing error. Then the hero of the day once again came through as Jacob lined a shot up the middle and into center field driving in the second run of the game for FSU. The hit brought in the second run for FSU and the third pitcher of the day for the Ducks as Allison Meashintubby took the circle. Jacob advanced to second on a wild pitch before a fourth IBB put van der Linden on first. The Tribe was unable to build on the two-run lead as the game moved to the sixth and FSU moved within six outs of the school's seventh WCWS.
After retiring her 15th straight batter, a throwing error put a Duck on base for the first time since the first inning but van der Linden recorded the second out on a pop up to short and ended the top of the sixth on a ground out to second.
"I thought their defense was exceptional," said Arendsen. "They just made some great plays. Their shortstop made a couple really nice plays. They played great. They deserved the championship."
The Tribe went quietly in the home half of the sixth as they moved to the seventh and just three outs from a trip to Oklahoma City. Oregon sent the heart of its order to the plate in the inning and Jenn Poore got on board with a one out infield single but there was nothing doing versus van der Linden who was not going to let a second trip to the World Series slip through her fingers.
"Throughout the game, I didn't know what inning it was 'cause in my head I'd already had it in mind it didn't matter. I was just going to go until we were done," said van der Linden. "I just kind of had that mentality. Every pitch counted. There wasn't any batter in their line up that I could ease up on. They're all terrific hitters. I had to stay focused and my teammates played excellent defense behind me and I was so happy with that."
Florida State will open WCWS play Thursday, May 27 at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The Seminoles will face a familiar foe in consensus No. 2 Cal (50-11). The Bears downed FSU 1-0 on their way to the National Championship at the WCWS in 2002. Cal and FSU also met the year before in a regional championship in Tallahassee with California taking two of three games.
For more information on the 2004 FSU softball team or the 2004 WCWS, including tickets, please log on to the official athletic website of Florida State University at www.seminoles.com