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Kelly Barnhill's Legacy Goes Beyond Florida Record Book

(Photo by Linda Donnelly)

OKLAHOMA CITY – For some athletes, their careers are defined by moments that range from Game 7 walk-off winners to perfect games to striking out and everything in-between.

The playing career of Florida's Kelly Barnhill will not be defined by a single moment, and most definitely, it will not be defined by a 15-3 loss to Alabama that resulted in the Gators' first-ever winless WCWS trip.

Barnhill didn’t win a national championship or hit a walk-off winner or record a strikeout to end the game.

Instead, she became a three-time All-American, an ESPY winner, a National Player of the Year and a multiple-time All-SEC selection. But most of all, Barnhill is an All-Community Service Team member, a role model and an ambassador of the game, who reaches fans internationally.

It all started last spring when a young fan from Canada wanted to watch her idol play in person.

“Abby is such a sweet little girl,” Barnhill told reporters with a smile. “Her dad I think messaged me on Facebook the first time. ‘Oh, we're coming to a game.’ [It was] supposed to be like a Central Florida game. The game was sold out [and she] couldn't come in. They ended up trying to go to an Alabama game. It was sold out. Then they kept on trying. They came down from Canada.”

Abby and her family stayed in Florida until they made it into a game. It happened to be a loss at Florida State, but they made it in. Barnhill, who isn’t much of a socializer after losses, took the time to meet Abby and sign whatever she had.

They made the trip down again this year.

“She is the cutest little thing in the world,” Barnhill said. “She's just so determined, so driven. It's just so amazing to see little girls like that who are going to be in our position one day. She had come down again this year to watch us play. She was out in the parking lot after the game throwing pitches to her dad. ‘Can you look at this?’ They're the future. It's just so amazing to see these great little athletes. Some of them are better than I was at that age.”

When the senior took the mound on Saturday evening, it undeniably wasn’t the way she wanted her career to end. She surrendered six earned runs on three hits and two walks and couldn’t finish the first inning.

Florida head coach Tim Walton handed the ball to Elizabeth Hightower and then to Natalie Lugo before putting it back in his ace’s hand for a fourth-inning curtain call that had the whole stadium on its feet.

“Yeah, it's unfortunate I guess more than anything. But you can't do anything about the way the score was,” said Walton about Barnhill's outing. “I'm not going to look at it that way. I'm going to remember the standing ovation from everybody in the stadium, including the Alabama faithful. They were very respectful, very polite in that moment to recognize the last pitch one of the greatest has thrown.”

As soon as the ball hit catcher Jordan Roberts’ mitt, Alabama batter Elissa Brown walked toward the Alabama dugout to pay her respects. Barnhill jogged to the first base line, took her mask off and gator chomped through tears.

“Yeah, Coach came up to me and he asked what I kind of wanted to do,” Barnhill reflected. “Just kind of a moment to honor what I've done at Florida wearing the orange and blue. He told me that I'd throw one pitch, he'd take me out. It was a really special moment just being able to go out there again, have one more pitch with my teammates by my back. The crowd was absolutely amazing. It was just a really special moment for me.”

But even a moment like that won’t even touch the legacy that is Kelly Barnhill, who has 1,205 collegiate strikeouts to her name.

“I think one of the things I learned about myself is I've learned that you just need to tune out outside expectations and other people's opinions because at the end of the day it doesn't matter,” she answered when asked about how she defines herself. “All that matters is being true to who you are. Those other people, it doesn't matter what they think. It doesn't matter what expectations they have for you. They expect you to pitch a no-hitter every single time. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're true to yourself and you love who you are.”

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