By Cliff Brunt
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kelly Barnhill has accomplished just about everything in her two-year career at Florida.
Now she can add winning pitcher at the Women’s College World Series. The sophomore gave up three hits to help top-seeded Florida knock off Texas A&M 8-0 in five innings Thursday on the opening day of action.
Florida didn’t reach the WCWS last season, so this was a new stage for Barnhill (25-3), USA Softball’s National Player of the Year this season. She threw 30 pitches in the first and escaped trouble, then threw 46 in her final three innings for top-seeded Florida (56-8). She struck out five in four innings.
She got plenty help from her teammates. After her escape, Florida got on the board in the first when Janell Wheaton’s single knocked in two runners. Barnhill said the runs helped her relax.
“I was just kind of going in there and getting comfortable on the mound and just going after batters because I knew my teammates had my back on the field and when they were hitting,” she said.
The Gators scored two more in the second on a single by Nicole DeWitt. Florida’s Aleshia Ocasio hit a three-run homer in the fourth.
Florida’s Delanie Gourley pitched the fifth inning and helped preserve the team’s nation-leading 39th shutout of the season.
“It’s just going to come down to players if they can handle this moment, and I thought our players came out and handled this moment very well,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.
The Gators will play a winner’s bracket game against another SEC rival, LSU (49-20), at 7 p.m. Friday. LSU defeated UCLA 2-1 in its opener Thursday.
Texas A&M starter Trinity Harrington lasted two innings and gave up four runs on five hits for the Aggies (47-12). Harrington (14-3) left the team during regionals after her father passed away, then returned for super regionals and won back-to-back games against Tennessee to push the Aggies into the College World Series.
Texas A&M coach Jo Evans said her pitchers weren’t themselves against Florida.
“We just needed to do a better job of attacking the zone and understanding that our pitches are good enough to get people out,” she said. “Even though you’re on a stage like this and even though it’s Florida, the No. 1 team in the country, you still have to believe that the pitches you throw for strikes are good enough to get outs.”
Texas A&M will play UCLA (47-14) in an elimination game Saturday.
“My message to our team is trust yourself,” Evans said. “There’s a reason you’re playing in the College World Series. Trust your great ability and have confidence in yourself, and things will fall into place.”