It’s easy for Meghan King to identify the proudest she has been of Kathryn Sandercock this month.

King was the ace of the Florida State team that won the program’s first national championship in 2018. Sandercock is the ace of the team that is trying to win a second one right now. The two overlapped in Tallahassee for just one season, but Sandercock latched on to King as a mentor, and the alumna has been watching her protegee closely. So, yes, King was proud of Sandercock’s perfect game in the regional round. She was proud of the five shutout innings against No. 6 Oklahoma State, and she was proud of the gutsy performance to close out the game that sent No. 3 Florida State to the finals of the Women’s College World Series.

But the proudest? King has been proudest of something everyone else might have missed. She has been proudest of the moments the television broadcasts have captured of Sandercock alone in the dugout, quiet and composed, patiently waiting for her chance to dominate.

“You can see her routine, her breathing, her calmness,” King says.

King can remember Sandercock as a freshman, “just like all freshmen,” jumping up and down and cheering for every plate appearance her team had in games she was pitching. It took some time to learn the composure Sandercock displays now. To be at her best in the circle, she has to be at her most serene in the dugout, conserving her energy and preparing to execute.

Sandercock's role has changed this season, making more appearances than she ever has—46—but starting fewer games.

Nate Billings/AP

“That was really cool to see,” King says. “Especially in the last few games that she's played at the World Series—be in the dugout, stay in her breathing routine, stay calm, cool and collected, whether she's in the field or just sitting on a bucket, you know, waiting for her opportunity to go out there and execute. I think I’m most proud of her ability to not ride the highs and lows.”

That will be essential for Sandercock when No. 3 Florida State takes on No. 1 Oklahoma for the title in the best-of-three series beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The Seminoles will need to dig deep to challenge the Sooners, the best team in the sport, who are seeking a third consecutive title and riding a record win streak. And that will depend heavily on Sandercock—who has found a way to shine this season no matter how the team deploys her.

Seminoles coach Lonni Alameda sat down with Sandercock at the beginning of the year to sketch out a plan for her ace. She wasn’t sure the fifth-year senior would like it: After the team made a disappointingly early exit in the postseason in 2022, she’d decided that she would manage Sandercock’s innings more carefully in '23, trying to ensure that she would be fresh in May and June. That would mean pivoting the entire staff to pitching by committee. Sandercock would still be considered the ace. But she was going to start less often, and Alameda was going to test her in relief more frequently, inserting her in different contexts depending on what the team needed. It was a drastic shift from the kind of role Sandercock had been working toward her entire career.

“When I presented that to her, it meant a lot less starts, a lot less innings, a lot less comfortable situations,” Alameda said. “She struggled with it. She really prides herself on being really good in moments… Now, she's taking control of the team. She has that sass walking off the field, super confident in who she is. You get proud of her as a person, too. She's able to lead these younger pitchers in those moments.”

That’s been on display all postseason. Sandercock helped ensure the Seminoles would not suffer the same fate they did last year: They have lost just once so far in this tournament run. That came in regionals, and with their season on the line in the next game, Sandercock got the start. She responded by throwing the first perfect game in the postseason history of the program, delivering a 1–0 victory for Florida State, punching its ticket to super regionals. And in the next round, she was needed instead in relief, mentoring the rest of the pitching staff through their postseason starts while delivering in the later innings herself.

“Having Kat as a leader, last year stepping in… Immediately she took my hand and guided me, and I couldn't be more grateful for that,” said Florida State pitcher Mack Leonard, who transferred last year from Illinois State. “This year, I've seen her step up even more than last year. We've got a really big staff, and she's managed to lead each and every one of us in different ways. It's a testament to her leadership, for sure.”

That willingness to step up shows in the numbers. Sandercock has a career-low 1.05 ERA in 186 innings pitched this season. But her team is more impressed by how it shows in the way she carries herself.

“Kat Sandercock is like the epitome,” says Florida State director of player performance Ellie Cooper, who works on mental skills with the team. “She’s like the golden star of mental performance.”

That shows in her ability to adapt, in her embrace of new challenges, in her composure throughout it all.

“It's interesting. Sometimes, when we're in a really good zone, it's like there is no ball in between us. It's complete eye and body language,” Florida State catcher Michaela Edenfield said. “It's really, really cool to be in that moment with her.”

In those moments, Sandercock is calm. She’s focused; she’s attuned to her breathing and fixated on nailing every individual pitch. And somewhere, King is watching, and she’s proud.