Kelly Barnhill dominated the game in 2017. The Florida Gator sophomore collected multiple awards like the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and she even won an ESPY for Best Female College Athlete.
Her numbers were staggering. She lowered her earned run average from 1.37 to 0.51 and improved her record from 15-1 to 26-4. She had 13 shutouts and 359 strikeouts in 193.2 innings. Opposing teams could only muster a .121 batting average against her.
This isn’t a story just about Barnhill, although she is a huge part of it. Without a doubt, she is one of the most dominant pitchers in the NCAA but she was one of 19 underclassmen to pitch in the 2017 Women’s College World Series.
Here is a breakdown for you, four freshman (including one redshirt), five sophomores, seven juniors and two seniors stepped into the circle in Oklahoma City. Florida’s Delanie Gourley and Baylor’s Kelsee Selmann were the only seniors.
To continue the breakdown, here are the returning pitchers for each of the eight teams.
Texas A&M: Trinity Harrington (Sr.), Samantha Show (Jr.) and Peyton McBride (Soph.)
UCLA: Rachel Garcia (R Soph.) and Selina Ta’amilo (Sr.)
Washington: Taran Alvelo (Jr.)
Oregon: Maggie Balint (Soph.), Miranda Elish (Soph.) and Megan Kleist (Jr.)
LSU: Allie Walljasper (Sr.) and Carley Hoover (Sr.)
Baylor: Gia Rodoni (Jr.)
Florida: Kelly Barnhill (Jr.) and Aleshia Ocasio (Sr.)
Oklahoma: Paige Parker (Sr.), Paige Lowary (Sr.), Nicole Mendes (Soph.) and Mariah Lopez (Soph.)
Go ahead, let that sink in for a minute. Washington’s Madi Schreyer was a junior last year and is not listed on the 2018 roster so of all 19 underclassmen, 18 will be back in the circle this coming season.
“I think two year ago we were all saying how hitting is dominating everything,” said Oregon Head Coach Mike White. “Now it’s time to the pitchers dominate a little bit.”
White attributed some of the numbers to the ball change.
“We changed from the Wilson ball to the Worth ball. It’s not quite as lively, so the pitchers’ numbers were dropped a little bit,” said White. “The ERA’s were under 2.00. Last year, they were over 2.00.”
When it comes to Oregon specifically. Balint (1.22), Kleist (1.32) and Elish (1.79) combined for a team ERA of 1.41. The staff was 54-8 with an opposing batting average of .197 in 401.1 innings.
“I think you’ve got a lot of good pitching out there,” said Florida Head Coach Tim Walton. “The scores have been – that tournament was one of the best tournaments that I’ve been at. We had 3-1 games, 2-1 games 1-0 games. I think we’re witnessing a lot of great pitching.”
The great pitching we all witnessed at the WCWS back in June is why just validation to why 2018 will be the year of the pitcher. Each of those women gained valuable knowledge and experience that they will carry with them for the rest of their careers.
Pitchers like Walljasper and Hoover from LSU have been to the WCWS three years in a row. Paige Parker has won two back-to-back national championships. Paige Lowary and Barnhill throw low to mid 70’s. Not to mention, Garcia could be the second coming of her coach, Lisa Fernandez.
The comparisons can go on for days but for now, it’s time to sit back, relax and wait for the first pitch to cross the plate in February.