Marietta’s Kelly Barnhill up for ESPY Female Collegiate Athlete of the Year

Kelly Barnhill pitching in the Collegiate Softball World Series. CREDIT: AP

This was posted on Friday, June 30, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Marietta native and Pope High School graduate Kelly Barnhill is up for the 2017 ESPY’s Female Collegiate Athlete of the Year.

She had a dominant sophomore season for the Florida Gators. She went 26-4 with a microscopic 0.51 ERA and 359 strikeouts in a mere 193 innings pitched. That’s nearly two strikeouts per inning. She struck out 55 percent of all batters she faced. Opponents batted just .121 against her. She pitched her second no hitter of her college career.

[UPDATE: She won!]

“My goal every time is to strike the batter out,” she said in an interview today.

Barnhill has already piled on the awards, named the USA Softball Collegiate Athlete of the Year, the espnW Player of the Year and SEC Pitcher of the year. Softball experts are already comparing her to some of the best softball pitchers in history including Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman.

“I’m not sure I’m quite there yet,” Barnhill said. “But it’s been cool to even be in the conversation with those people. Maybe down the line, I’ll be that person little girls will look up to and want to be like.”

Her rise ball stymies hitters, especially since she can throw it at three different planes. “It’s my best pitch and my favorite pitch,” she said, topping out at 73 miles an hour. Given that it’s only 43 feet between pitcher and hitter vs. 60 feet for baseball, that’s equal to more than 100 miles an hour in that other sport.

On top of that, Barnhill has developed a screwball and a decent two-seam fastball. She is also working on a change up.

The ESPYs is democratic – in an old-school Chicago way. You can vote for her as many times as you want here. She’s up against players in basketball, soccer, volleyball and lacrosse. The ESPYs air July 12 with Peyton Manning as host.

Barnhill said the only disappointment this year was losing to the Oklahoma Sooners in the World Series in May. The first game lasted 17 innings and 5-plus hours, the longest World Series game in softball history. She started the game for seven innings, then re-entered in the 16th, giving up the key runs in the 17th. (Yes, in softball, players can leave and come back under certain circumstances.)

Nonetheless, she’s remained busy, playing for the United States national softball team. “We got back from Japan four, five days ago,” she said. “On Sunday, I leave for Oklahoma City for the World Cup.”

She is set to graduate the University of Florida in 2019 and hopes to play for the Olympic softball team come 2020 in Tokyo, the first time since 2008 softball would be included as a sport in the games. She also hopes after graduation to play professionally in Japan or Europe. “I love traveling and getting to see different cultures,” she said. Japanese fans, she said, are especially supportive.

“Last year, we played in the Tokyo Dome with 30,000 people watching. This week, we had a minor game that drew 10,000 fans.”

She embraces pitching through and through. “I love having control over every single pitch and almost every single moment when I’m on the field,” she said. “But it’s a team sport. If I’m having a bad day, I have others who can pick me up. I love that.” (She doesn’t have many bad days, by the way.)

Barnhill is beyond psyched to attend the ESPYs in Los Angeles in two weeks and hit the red carpet. But she isn’t spending any extra savings on a dress. “I’m using my senior year prom dress,” she said, practically. “It’s in the closet. Why not use it?”

Her goal: meet Serena Williams. “I’m going to be so star struck,” she said, “but she is such an amazing female athlete and has been dominating the game for so long.”

 


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