May 16, 2013 9:48:37 AM
Mississippi State University's softball team has a rare assignment in the opening round of the University of South Alabama-hosted Mobile Regional.
MSU (32-22), the No. 3 seed in the regional, will take on Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season conference champion Florida State (41-16), the No. 2 seed, at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the opening game of the four-team, double-elimination event.
"We have on the toughest tasks of any regional," MSU coach Vann Stuedeman said. "You typically don't see a team of Florida State's stature fall to a two seed. They are very good in every facet of the game."
This is the second straight season the ACC, widely considered one the nation's stronger conferences, didn't receive a national seed or have one of its members earn a chance to play host to a regional in the 64-team tournament field. Conversely, the Southeastern Conference was awarded with seven national seeds and tournament hosts.
FSU may have just missed a national seed. In the final Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of the season, the Seminoles were No. 22. The top 16 teams in the final RPI each received regional host spots.
This is FSU's 14th-straight regional appearance. Eleven teams have made at least 14 straight regionals, including the University of Alabama, the lone SEC participant in that grouping.
Overall, FSU has played in 26 regional tournaments, which is fifth nationally. MSU is making its 10th regional appearance, including each of Stuedeman's first two teams.
"We have had good fortune, but we have also had some very dedicated players," Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. "To be able to compete for the conference championship on a consistent basis says a lot about the tradition that has been established here."
Alameda's first team in 2009 hosted a regional. FSU defeated MSU 5-0 in that regional. After that, FSU bowed out of Athens Regional in two games in 2010. As ACC tournament champions in 2011, FSU fell in the championship game of that same a regional. Last season, FSU won 47 games but didn't earn a national seed. Playing as a two seed in the Los Angeles Regional, FSU couldn't take advantage of an early exit by UCLA, the host squad, and lost two 1-0 games to No. 3 seed Sam Houston State University.
"Not only do you have to be playing really good softball when you enter postseason play, you have to have good fortune," Alameda said. "Pitching typically dominates at this point, so you have to take advantage of your offensive opportunities.
"The team with the least amount of mistakes will advance. It sometimes can be mistakes that are not obvious. It is that one mislocated pitch in a key sequence. It can be stuff like that that can be the difference in advancing."
Much like Stuedeman at MSU, Alameda handles the pitchers for the Seminoles. FSU's pitching has been mighty good. Sophomore right-hander Lacey Waldrop is 22-8 with a 1.47 ERA. In 191 innings, Waldrop has struck out 222 and walked 49. Senior right-hander Monica Perry (18-8, 2.02 ) gives the team a 1-2 punch. In 151 2/3 innings, she has 181 strikeouts and 32 walks.
A first-team All-ACC selection, Waldrop struck out 18 in an extra-inning loss to the University of Florida earlier this season. The Seminoles have thrown an ACC-best 18 shutouts this season. Waldrop and Perry have thrown all but 23 1/3 of the team's innings this season.
"There is little doubt it starts in the circle for Florida State," Stuedeman said. "Even though (Waldrop and Perry) are both right-handers, they do so many things differently, and it makes for a good combination. If you look at their numbers, you find a very balanced team."
FSU led the ACC with a .309 batting average and team ERA (1.95). The Seminoles ranked third in the league in home runs and second in the league in runs scored.
The ACC placed four teams in postseason. North Carolina State University defeated FSU 1-0 in the tournament championship game to earn the automatic invitation.
Elsewhere in the Mobile Regional, No. 1 seed and No. 13 national seed South Alabama (45-7) will face No. 4 seed Mississippi Valley State University (24-26) at 6 p.m. Friday.
MSU lost to USA 3-2 in the regular season in Starkville. It defeated MVSU 1-0 in another regular-season game in Starkville. MSU and FSU last met in 2011, with the Bulldogs winning two one-run decisions at the SEC/ACC Challenge in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter