OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Florida coach Tim Walton felt Kelly Barnhill deserved better than to have her decorated career end in embarrassment.
Barnhill had been one of the nation’s elite pitchers the past three years, but the senior wasn’t her best on Saturday. Walton took her out after she gave up six early runs in the first inning of a 15-3 loss to Alabama in a Women’s College World Series elimination game. It was an unusual sight — she was USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year in 2017 and is a three-time NFCA All-American.
Walton and his assistants devised a plan to give Barnhill a proper send-off. With Florida trailing 11-0 in the fourth inning, Walton let her re-enter the game for one more pitch. She then received a standing ovation at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium — including Alabama’s players and fans.
“It was a really special moment just being able to go out there again, have one more pitch with my teammates by my back,” Barnhill said. “The crowd was absolutely amazing.”
Florida senior Amanda Lorenz lost it when Walton came out after the pitch to give Barnhill a hug.
“I was crying in left field,” she said. “That’s not fun. I’m in the middle of a softball game. I don’t want to be crying, but I was crying.”
Alabama (58-9) knows exactly how good Barnhill is. She beat the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game this season, giving up just one run and two hits in a 2-1 victory.
“I tip my cap to Alabama for being a really good team this year, but also for the level of respect that they showed another great player on the other side of the field,” Walton said. “I thought that was really, really the definition, probably the definition of sport that doesn’t get recognized very often. That was really cool.”
Barnhill entered this season with a career record of 70-8, but she went 34-14 this season. There wasn’t as much depth on the pitching staff as in years past, and the Gators (49-18) also struggled to support her with runs. Still, she was among the nation’s leaders in wins and strikeouts, and she was named a second-team NFCA All-American.
In her final outing, she gave up three-run homers to Kaylee Tow and Merris Schroder. Walton said that’s not how he will remember her.
“I’m going to remember the standing ovation from everybody in the stadium, including the Alabama faithful,” Walton said. “They were very respectful, very polite in that moment to recognize the last pitch one of the greatest has thrown.”
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said it was obvious from Barnhill’s freshman year that she would be special. He retold a story from Barnhill’s freshman year, when two of his players returned to the dugout saying they couldn’t even see Barnhill’s pitches.
“Just a good kid, smart kid,” Murphy said. “I wish I could say I’m going to miss her, but I’m really glad she’s graduating.”
After Alabama dominated the first inning, the Crimson Tide scored four more runs in the third inning, and the rout was on. Bailey Hemphill’s three-run homer in the fourth was her 26th of the year, a new single-season school record. She also set a school record with 82 RBIs.
Florida finally scored in the seventh inning on homers by Kendyl Lindaman and Sophia Reynoso.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .