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Mike Lopresti | | May 10, 2017

Florida's Kelly Barnhill dominating on the field and off

  Kelly Barnhill was named to the All-SEC First Team and also won SEC Pitcher of the Year.

Kelly Barnhill’s numbers demand to speak first for the Florida sophomore. After all, they’re the loudest voices in the room.

There’s the 0.33 earned run average. The 2.91 hits and 13.3 strikeouts per seven innings. All best in the nation.

RELATED: Florida stays on top in latest USA Today/NFCA poll

There’s the 22-1 record, including 13-1 against ranked opponents. The two scoreless streaks of 45.2 and 51.0 innings. The one earned run allowed all season against the softball gauntlet that is the SEC. The fact she inflicted upon five league opponents – Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee – their season high in strikeouts.

There was the series against Kentucky, which she opened with a two-hitter, striking out 15. Pretty good, but two days later, she was even better to close the series; 15 more strikeouts and a no-hitter.

There was even her lone defeat, an 11-inning epic with No. 2 Florida State when she struck out 21, but was beaten 3-1 by a walk-off homer.

RELATED: Pair of HRs powers No. 2 FSU over No. 1 Florida

“It’s amazing to be able to have the (top) statistics, there’s so many great pitchers,” she said this week. “But in the long run of the season that doesn’t matter anymore, because we’re moving on to postseason now, and it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Any other numbers with something to say? Oh, yeah. Hard to decide which is more impressive: her earned run average or her grade point average. The latter is 3.93, with a double major in public relations and economics.

The No. 1 Gators take a 50-5 record into the SEC tournament and beyond. They know where they want to go — back to the Women's College World Series, which they won in 2014 and 2015 before Barnhill arrived.

“At this point, we’re not looking to winning the championship, we’re looking to get there first,” Barnhill said. “And then we go from there. I have no idea what it’s like to play in Oklahoma City. Only half our team does. One half is motivated to get there for the first time, the other half is motivated to help us get there, so we get to experience that.”

It has been, to date, quite the journey for the righthander. Consider the many stages of Kelly Barnhill.

… The little girl in Marietta, Georgia, trying her hand in this sport and that one, starting with soccer. “Definitely not the sport for me. Way too much running.”

… The high school phenom who threw 22 no-hitters, including striking out all 21 batters in a perfect game.

… The hot recruit who waited and pondered and agonized until autumn of her senior year to finally pick Florida over Stanford. “As soon as I made the decision, the weight was lifted off my shoulders . . . I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

… The Gators ace who on occasion can be nearly unhittable. “Those days are amazing. You just go out there and you know no matter who the batter is and no matter what they’re trying to do, you’re going to go up there and shut them down.”

But how? Coach Tim Walton listed the reasons.

“No. 1, she’s very competitive. Being very competitive, she has a high level work ethic that goes with it. Her windup is very deceptive. Her velocity is probably in the top one percent. She also probably has some of the best movement of anybody in the country. She had all that stuff last year, and now this year, she’s added location.”

Barnhill said of the spin on her pitch, “It just looks like it’s going to sit there, and then it jumps.”

Put that all together, and pity the poor batters.

“Intimidation comes in a lot of different forms,” Walton said. “Here’s this kid, she’s about 5-foot-8 ½, she throws super hard, her body parts are coming from all different directions. To top that off, she makes a little bit of a noise when she’s throwing that pitch. I would say all of that stuff would be somewhat intimidating. After you humbly go back to the dugout. it can be quite mentally challenging.”

… The relentless competitor whose weekends sometimes go like this: Mow a team down. Rest. Repeat.

That’s a major difference between the life of a softball underhanded pitcher and baseball overhanded pitcher. The latter might throw a gem, but then needs four days off to rest the arm and shoulder. Barnhill could pitch forever. “I love going back out there,” she said. “Like OK, we’ve already had your number once, we’re going to have it again.”

But then, Florida has the luxury of senior Delanie Gourley – 18-3, and 0.80 ERA – so it doesn’t have to be all Barnhill, all the time.

… The academic juggernaut whose worst grade has been a B-plus in public speaking. “You’d think I’d be pretty good at that with all the interviews I have to do, but no,” she said. Every week, she has to present an academic progress report to Walton. “If I have anything below an A, I get a frowny face,” she said. “He knows I have high expectations for myself.”

Walton sees a young woman raised by her family to excel at … everything. “She’s competitive on the softball diamond, but I think she’s just equally as competitive in the classroom. Then to top it off, she’s smart. Her IQ is as high as anybody I’ve ever coached.

 “I tell all of our athletes you’d better be getting an A in something. You’d better be getting an A in the classroom or you’d better be getting an A off the field. I think she’s as close to anybody in getting an A in all of them. She’s an A person.”

It can’t be easy, being nearly perfect on the field and off it. An average day for Barnhill begins with weights at 8 a.m., then class, then snack and study session, more classes, practice, dinner, study or tutor session.

“If you procrastinate,” she said, “it’s going to end up coming back to bite you in the butt generally.”

So which glowing number means more, the ERA or the GPA? “Both, because one cannot happen without the other.”

… The nearly non-stop winner who recalls clearly the game she lost this season, and the Seminoles team who did it. “We’ll probably see them in postseason sometime, and it’ll be a great rematch.”

… And finally, the star of the top-ranked team. If Florida is to be stopped, someone will probably have to beat Kelly Barnhill sooner or later. The Gators know that, too.

… “That’s the beauty of having someone like Kelly,” Walton said. “I think it makes not only the coaching staff confident, but it also makes our offense and our defense confident.”

Or as Barnhill said, “Sometimes you just go out there with the confidence, they may know what I’m going to throw, they’ve still got to hit it.”

Most times, they don’t.

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