Special to Gatorsports.com
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Florida’s standout seniors Kelly Barnhill and Amanda Lorenz again came through to lift the sixth-seeded Gators to a 2-1 win over top seed Alabama and capture the program’s second consecutive SEC softball tournament championship Saturday.
“I give all our credit to our players,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “Our players not only did a really good job of staying focused, but did what they needed to do to stay in tune in the rain delay game on Wednesday, and just doing everything necessary to regroup each and every day when we had a new opponent.”
The tourney win, UF’s fifth all time to tie Alabama and LSU, was extra sweet coming against rival Alabama, which ended UF’s hold on the league’s regular season title but also swept the Gators in Gainesville earlier this season.
“No one expected us to do well, but everyone contributed,” said Barnhill, who was named the tournament MVP. “It was really exciting to see everyone contribute in some way. Whether it was a pinch hit or making plays on defense or just moving runners. I think everyone did a really good job this week. It was our last regular season softball game wearing the Florida Gator uniform so I’m glad we could go out like this. We’re not done yet, of course.”
Barnhill (30-11) won her 100th career game by limiting the Crimson Tide (52-7) to two hits, striking out six and walking six. Barnhill won all three of her games in the tourney, allowing just one run and five hits (a 0.33 ERA, .075 opponent batting average) in 21 innings pitched and had 24 strikeouts.
“Kelly Barnhill did a fabulous job the whole entire week, against really good hitting teams and used her defense when she needed to,” Walton said. “No bigger strikeout than the last strikeout of the game, just a fabulous pitch and really did a good job.”
After going 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position in the first, third and fourth innings, Florida (44-15) finally broke through in a big way with two outs in the sixth inning. Pinch hitter Cheyenne Lindsey hit a double and Jordan Matthews worked a pinch-hit walk before Lorenz’s two-run double down the left-field line on a full count.
“In a tight-knit group like this, to see everyone contribute and our hard work pay off, was just a lot of fun,” Lorenz said. “I just love all of my teammates so much, so to go out like this in my senior year with them by my side is really exciting. I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
The Crimson Tide threatened in their half of the sixth, but Barnhill struck out a Bama player to end the frame.
Alabama ended Barnhill’s scoreless streak in the tournament at 17 straight with its run in the fourth inning. A walk, single and two groundouts produced the Crimson Tide run.
The teams will find out their NCAA Tournament assignment on the Selection Show at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN 2.
Note: All five of Florida’s SEC Tournament Titles have come under the guidance of head coach Tim Walton, which is more than any other coach in conference history. … Walton holds a career 23-9 record at the SEC Tournament. … The win over No. 4 Alabama was the team’s 19th victory over a top-25 opponent this season. Barnhill picked up her 100th career victory and is now only one of three pitchers in Florida history to have achieved the benchmark: Stacey Nelson (2006-’09) – 136, Hannah Rogers (2011-’14) – 127. … Lorenz, Sophia Reyenoso and Hannah Adams join Barnhill on the SEC All-Tournament team.