Florida State played careful while Alabama played safe. Now, the Seminoles are playing for a title.

Alabama's Jenna Johnson, foreground, walks off the field as Florida State players celebrate...
Alabama's Jenna Johnson, foreground, walks off the field as Florida State players celebrate following an NCAA Women's College World Series softball game Monday, June 7, 2021, in Oklahoma City. Florida State won the game and moves onto the championship finals series. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)(Sue Ogrocki | AP)
Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 1:49 PM EDT
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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (WCTV) - Of the 17 batters Alabama’s Montana Fouts faced in Monday’s winner-take-all if-necessary game, three Florida State hitters faced three-ball counts, all of which resulted in walks.

Those were the first free-passes issued of the Women’s College World Series by the Bama ace and two of those three came into score, including what proved to be the winning run, Josie Muffley, that gave FSU a 4-0 lead.

Another three Seminole batters worked counts with at least two balls in them and several, most notably Sydney Sherrill, showed incredible patience at the plate, laying off tantalizing pitches at the knees or on the outside corner, helping the Seminoles have their best offensive game of the 2021 WCWS and securing their spot in the 2021 Championship Series after competing their two-game sweep of the Crimson Tide in the semifinals.

It was that approach at the plate that spelled the difference between how Noles and Tide saw their semifinal clash: FSU played carefully, knowing any mistake could spell the end of their run too son, while Alabama assumed they were dealt pocket aces and opted to go all in before realizing they, in fact, were holding a non-pair, off suit.

While three walks in 17 hitters faced doesn’t, on the surface, seem like a stat that is indicative of how effective one team was over another, do remember: Fouts was on fire, coming off a complete game Friday night and had thrown 69.7% of her pitches entering Monday for strikes.

Her strike percentage Monday dropped three hole points, to 66.67%, in her early exit.

Florida State was in control of that matchup from the first hitter of the game, and thanks to the comfort of a 3-0 lead after one and an 8-0 lead after three, they never had to worry about looking back.

But it was the fact that Fouts hadn’t pitched since Friday night that could have factored into not only the Seminoles’ patience, but how easy it was to be patient, with Fouts not firing on all cylinders as she had in her two games prior.

Under the impression there could be two games played Sunday, the Tide started Lexi Kilfoyl Sunday afternoon and stuck with her once the game resumed following a two hour and 36 minute rain delay, even when it was clear that Fouts wouldn’t be needed in consecutive games in one day after a determination had been made that an if-necessary game, if in fact necessary, wouldn’t be played until the next evening.

That decision, in the immediate, wasn’t exactly a poor one: Kilfoyle did spin a complete game and allowed just two hits while striking out nine, but the Caylan Arnold/Kathryn Sandercock duo was too strong for the Tide hitters Sunday.

After over 48 hours of rest, Fouts just wasn’t the same on Monday.

Yes, the Seminoles matched the Tide’s game theory Sunday, opting to put their trust in Arnold, but did end up turning to Sandercock late in the game when it felt like the Tide could be threatening, knowing full well they’d need her the following day, if things went well.

Monday’s result was that of a perfect storm: The Tide hadn’t been tested a ton, or at least hadn’t failed too many of their tests, to close out the season and throughout the postseason, while the Seminoles have had to play like every pitch could decide their fate for an entire weekend.

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