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'Poker Face' a winner for Seminoles

When chips are down, 2B Veronica Wootson often is at her best for World Series-bound FSU.

Published May 27, 2004

Florida State freshman second baseman Veronica Wootson doesn't know the first thing about playing poker, but she undoubtedly would be a natural.

"She never shows emotion," senior first baseman Beth Wade said. "You can never tell what she's thinking."

So, good luck trying to read her expression. It's unchanging no matter if she's facing a 3-and-0 or 0-and-2 count or if she's striding into the box for her first at-bat or potentially the last of an NCAA tournament game.

Her teammates have nicknamed her Poker Face.

"That's just always been my style," Wootson said. "I try to stay very composed. I don't like the other team to know if I'm upset or if I'm happy."

She's been mostly the latter.

Wootson has ignited the offense as a speedy and powerful leadoff hitter, stabilized the all-important middle-infield defense and helped lead FSU to Oklahoma City, Okla., for the Women's College World Series.

The Seminoles (61-10) open the eight-team, double-elimination tournament against postseason nemesis California (50-11) at 9:30 tonight in a game shown nationally on ESPN2. The Bears eliminated the Seminoles in the 2001 region finale in Tallahassee and beat them again in the 2002 WCWS, the Seminoles' last trip there.

"She's had a tremendous impact, especially late in the season," coach JoAnne Graf said of Wootson. "It's seemed like every time we needed someone to pick us up, she was there. She really helped get us here."

Wootson leads the team in runs (69), hits (82), triples (seven) and total bases (125) and is second in batting average (.343), home runs (seven, tied with Lesley Palmer), stolen bases (17 of 23) and slugging percentage (.523).

She became the fourth Seminole to win the ACC rookie of the year award and the fifth Seminole freshman to earn National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-Southeastern honors.

FSU had high expectations for Wootson, who was recruited out of Fontana, Calif., to replace Brandi Stuart, a two-time All-American.

"When we were recruiting her, we basically told her she would step in and start right away," Graf said.

In the Seminoles' season-opening doubleheader against Illinois State and then Louisville, she went 3-for-5 with four runs and one RBI. In last week's NCAA regional in Tallahassee, Wootson came up in the bottom of the 12th of a tie game against Oregon with the bases loaded and two outs. She said it was the most nerve-racking moment of her softball career.

"I was just watching what the pitcher was throwing," Wootson said. "I didn't want to think, "Oh. I have to get a hit. I have to do this.' When you think too much, that's when you mess up."

She bounced a single, her third hit of the game, over shortstop to drive in the winning run, her third RBI, in the 5-4 win Saturday.

FSU lost to Oregon 1-0 the next day to set up a third game with the Ducks for a shot at the WCWS. FSU won 2-0 with Wootson scoring the insurance run in the fifth. She was named to the all-region team after hitting .388 (7-for-18) with six runs and three RBIs.

"She's really just taken it by storm," Graf said, "and it seems the higher the pressure, the better she gets."

Talk about playing a big hand.


WHEN/WHERE: Today-Monday, ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City, Okla.

TODAY'S SCHEDULE: Game 1 - Michigan vs. LSU, noon; Game 2 - Stanford vs. UCLA, 2:30; Game 3 - Washington vs. Oklahoma, 7; Game 4 - California vs. Florida State, 9:30.

TV: ESPN will carry first two games, ESPN2 has the evening games. They will share the remaining games.

FAVORITE: California. The Bears are the highest-ranked team - No. 2 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association final poll. They are in their sixth straight WCWS, winning in 2002 and finishing second last year. Sophomore pitcher Kristina Thorson (27-3, 0.77 ERA) was the most valuable player in her regional with four wins and 28 scoreless innings.

DARKHORSE: Michigan. The Wolverines, making their third WCWS appearance in four years, have the pitching to go far with senior Nicole Motycka (22-4, 0.77 ERA) and sophomore Jennie Ritter (24-7, 1.09). WHAT FSU HAS TO DO: The pitching tandem of senior Jessica van der Linden (28-7) and junior Casey Hunter (33-3) is the nation's best. Van der Linden leads the country in ERA (0.52) and Hunter is third (0.58). The Seminoles' problem has been hitting. Only van der Linden, an outfielder when she's not on the mound, freshman second baseman Veronica Wootson and sophomore outfielder Natasha Jacob are above .300. Said Graf: "The middle of our order has not been getting the job done and those are the people who have to step up."

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