Championship hopes ride on Barnwell
Armstrong Atlantic facing elimination once again on Sunday
SALEM, Va. - Moments after leaving the softball field on Saturday night, Armstrong Atlantic pitcher Megan Barnwell added a few accessories to her game attire.
A large bag of ice covered her throwing shoulder; a smaller one was wrapped around her knee. If there was any pain, it must have been a good kind of pain because she did not stop smiling.
"Yeah, I'm ready for tomorrow," she said. "I'm ready for a long day."
Barnwell admitted that what she experienced on Saturday at the NCAA Division II Softball Championship was a bit more extreme than normal. She threw 164 pitches in a 7-5 complete-game, nine-inning victory against Valdosta State in the first of two eliminations games for the Pirates.
About three hours later, Barnwell started Armstrong Atlantic's game with Humboldt State on the bench, but was called to duty in the six inning to close out a 5-3 win against Humboldt State.
Two games, one win, one save, eight strikeouts, 207 pitches. All that information just drew a shrug of the senior's shoulders.
"I really didn't have a clue," Barnwell said. "I never know how many pitches I throw in a game. This was really the first I've been told how many I threw. But it did feel like I threw more pitches than I normally throw."
That kind of attitude assures that the senior right-hander will be hard to forget when her career does come to an end this weekend. The Pirates need to beat bracket frontrunner Central Oklahoma twice on Sunday to advance to Monday's national championship game against either Grand Valley State or Kutztown.
Saturday's victory against Valdosta State was Barnwell's 87th -- tying her for the school's all-time win mark with former All-American Annie Sells. No other pitcher at the school has ever pitch as many innings as Barnwell, who is now at 775 2/3 innings. Once again, this was all a surprise to the record-holder.
"They told me - you just tied the record! and I said 'what record?'" Barnwell said. "They said I broke another record, but I don't have a clue what it is. It's nice to know that I'm breaking records, but this is a team thing, not individual.
To make that kind of a mark on a team, a player needs to be a contributor right from the start of her eligibility. Barnwell grew up in the next county over from Savannah in Brooklet, Ga., she attended tiny Southeast Bulloch High School, and while she excelled there, no one was sure how long it would take for her to make the transition to collegiate competition.
"There were two sophomores ahead of me, but I don't like taking second in any competition," Barnwell said. "I told the coach, I'm going to prove that I'm the right one for the job."
Four record-breaking years later, Pirates coach Ted Evans has no complaints.
"One of the things about Megan is that she always brings a consistent effort," Evans said. "There never a time when it's not a consistent effort. With that comes a consistence of winning. (The wins record) is a tribute to that consistency."
Barnwell said several reasons - including that she grew up close to the Savannah, Ga., campus and the school offered the speech pathology major she wanted to pursue - led to her decision to attend Armstrong Atlantic. However, there were plenty of other schools making scholarship offers, and Barnwell credits Evans with closing the deal.
"Coach had been looking at me for a while, and I really liked him as a coach and as a person," she said.
"… He kept up with me (when I was in high school). He was consistent keeping in touch with me. He would tell me when he thought I had done well. He's someone you could always joke around with, and we still do."
The Pirates and Bronchos opened the tournament back on Thursday. Central Oklahoma won that game 5-2 to gain an early advantage in the tournament. But with a win and save since then - and one night's rest - Barnwell said she is prepared.
"I'm pretty excited (about Sunday)," she said. "On Thursday, we came out a little nervous and stuff. I think that's why we didn't hit. But we got rid of our nerves on Thursday, and it would be great to prove (to Central Oklahoma) what we can do."