Kelly Barnhill only threw one perfect inning Friday night, but she still gave Florida the perfect start to the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional.
The senior continued her rampage through the postseason with a three-hit shutout, pitching around mistakes all night, as Florida beat Tennessee 3-0 in the first game of the best-of-three series.
Fifth-seeded Florida (48-15) can advance to the Women’s College World Series for the 10th time with a win in Saturday’s 6 p.m. game. No. 12 seed Tennessee (42-16) needs a win to force a Sunday game.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Florida senior Amanda Lorenz. “No Super Regional game is ever easy. We have to be as hungry as we were today.”
In front of a boisterous crowd of 2,106 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, Florida scored twice in the first inning and turned it over to Barnhill, who lowered her ERA to 0.16 in the last seven games.
“As the game went on my pitches were getting better and better,” said Barnhill (33-11). “Sometimes, the longer you are out there, you kind of get into a groove.”
Barnhill retired the side in order only once, in the fifth thanks to three walks and a pair of hit batsmen. She had seven strikeouts, including the final batter of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
“I felt like the rise ball was what I was missing last weekend so I really focused on that in practice,” Barnhill said.
The Gators scored twice in the first, Lorenz leading off with a four-pitch walk and Kendyl Lindaman ripping a run-scoring double to start the scoring and Sophia Reynono knocking her in with a single.
“That first inning was fun,” said Lorenz.
Tennessee starter Ashley Rogers was pulled in the second inning and replaced by Matty Moss. But Barnhill kept throwing up zeros and Florida eventually got some insurance on a double in the gap off the bat of Jaimie Hoover to score pinch-runner Amanda Beane.
“I feel really good at the plate right now,” Hoover said.
The game was a continuation of Florida’s SEC Tournament and Regional play in that the Gators continue to get contributions from throughout the batting order.
“The secret of postseason is being able to hit with runners in scoring position,” Walton said. “We did that some times and not some times.”
While Florida missed out on some scoring opportunities, the Gators had already pocketed enough in the first for Barnhill. The Vols managed only two singles and left eight runners stranded in trying to dig out of the early hole.
“It takes so much pressure off when you get two runs in the first inning,’ Barnhill said. “You’re still in the zone, but you are just having a little more fun.”
Florida made a number of plays behind Barnhill, including a diving catch of a pop-up by third baseman Hannah Sipos.
“That’s why she plays as much as she does,” Walton said, joking about Sipos’ .179 average she carried into the game.
Barnhill hit a pair of batters early, the second one loading the bases for Tennessee in the third. But she got out of the inning by getting a soft pop fly by Haley Beardon.
Tennessee had a runner on base in six of the seven innings.
Lorenz walked three times and tied the SEC record for career walks with Devon Wallace of Arkansas with 235.
Gainesville Super Regional
(Best-of-3; x-if necessary)
Host school is home team for Game 1; visiting school is home team for Game 2; coin flip determines home team for Game 3
At Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
Friday: Florida 3, Tennessee 0
Today: Florida (48-15) vs. Tennessee (42-16), 6 p.m., ESPN
x-Sunday: Florida vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m., ESPNU
Tickets: Contact the Gator Ticket Office