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Gators’ pitcher throws ‘special’ game in shutout win over USF

Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill held USF to one hit through six innings Sunday afternoon at the USF Softball Stadium in what USF coach Ken Eriksen called the best in his 32-year career.
ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

As the ball flew past USF freshman AnaMarie Bruni and into the catcher’s mitt, the game was complete.

Despite losing the perfect game in the fourth inning, Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill pitched a masterpiece in the eyes of USF softball coach Ken Eriksen.

To Eriksen, it was the best pitching performance he’d seen in his 32-year career.

“I was sitting at the third-base line thinking, ‘This is special, I hope you’re enjoying what you’re seeing.’ Today was special,” Eriksen said of Barnhill, who he coaches on the U.S. National Softball Team.

Barnhill pitched six shutout innings, allowing one hit with 12 strikeouts in the 8-0 win for No. 4 Florida over No. 25 USF on Sunday evening in front of a bright blue and orange crowd at the USF Softball Stadium.

Whether it was the spin, the variety, or the sheer velocity of her pitches, Eriksen hadn’t seen anything like it at the collegiate level.

“Her curveball had so much movement, late breaking stuff and velocity,” Eriksen said. “When you’re throwing 73 and 74, you have to respect the velocity, and then she throws the movement at the end. It’s unfair.

“Fortunately I was able to face relative stuff in the men’s game like that. For us, you just go back to the hotel room at night and go, ‘Hey, maybe tomorrow she won’t be that good.’ Today she was unreal.”

Junior Astin Donovan, who drilled the Bulls’ only hit through a hole between the first and second basemen, said the team had trouble tracking the pitches, making it hard to put balls into play.

“We weren’t trying to chase, although unfortunately, that happens,” Donovan said. 

Barnhill’s pitching, paired with power hitting from Florida’s Amanda Lorenz, paved the way for the Gators’ eight runs in the game’s final four innings, which ended the game in a mercy rule.

Lorenz opened the scoring in the third inning with a three-run homer over the center field wall. An inning later, she drove in two more with a two-out double to the gap in center field.

The final three runs came in the top of the sixth inning on a homer from Gator second baseman Nicole Dewitt.

Despite Sunday’s loss, USF exited the weekend with a 3-1 record, including a 6-4 win over No. 6 Michigan on Saturday.

It was the first time USF had beaten a ranked team in three years, with USF going 2-17 against top 25 opponents prior to Saturday.

The highlight of the game for USF was a two-run inside-the-park homer from junior outfielder Juli Weber in the bottom of the third to pull the Bulls within one run.

Coming out of its opening weekend a season ago against essentially the same opponents, USF was 1-4 with 11-2 and 11-1 losses to Michigan and Florida, respectively.

“That’s a move in a positive direction,” Eriksen said. “There’s no doubt I’d rather be 3-1 than 1-4.  It’s nice to be at least above .500 and not trying to run uphill.”

USF will next play at home against Wisconsin on Wednesday night at 6.