Florida's Kelly Barnhill named espnW player of the week after outdoing even herself

Even as Florida regains possession of the No. 1 ranking in the USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25, there remains little clarity as to the identity of the best team in college softball.

It is Florida this week. A week ago it was Arizona. Oregon before that. Florida State only topped the poll once but it hadn't gone a week without multiple first-place votes until the most recent rankings. Auburn, Minnesota and Texas A&M all received first-place votes at some point.

The ace up Florida's sleeve as the Gators seek to be the team on top when it matters in June is, well, their ace.

We may not know which team is the best, but it is apparent which pitcher is best. Indeed, far from taking her game to new heights in recent days, Florida's Kelly Barnhill is the espnW softball player of the week for improving only slightly over seven days on what she has done all season.

The numbers for the week, which included a win in a relief appearance against Florida State and two starts against ranked Kentucky, are staggering: 16 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 33 K, 3 BB.

She threw a two-hitter with 15 strikeouts in the series opener against Kentucky, then apparently decided there was room for improvement before throwing a 15-strikeout no-hitter in the finale.

Staggering, but again, repetitively so from the sophomore in the midst of a season for the ages.

Just as there is a tilt toward recent times in NCAA single-season records associated with power hitting, there is a corresponding dustiness to the records for certain pitching feats. That is most notably the case in ERA, where each of the top 20 single-season marks occurred prior to 1993 (the first season of the optic yellow softball and five years after the pitching distance shifted from 40 to 43 feet). Thus Tracy Compton's record-setting 0.04 ERA in 168 innings for UCLA in 1983 seems as untouchable as Cy Young's record 511 wins in Major League Baseball.

Each is the product of a different era in its sport.

And while Compton's record is still safe (she gave up all of one earned run that season), if the season ended right now, Barnhill's 0.19 ERA would rank 12th all time, a quarter of a century removed from the rest of the list. The season obviously isn't ending right now, but Barnhill's 110 2/3 innings already meet the minimum requirement for the record book. It isn't a small sample.

The nation's second-best ERA this season is more than twice that of Barnhill, the third-best ERA more than three times higher. She has yet to give up a home run and strikes out nearly two batters per inning. Even at Florida, with two other All-American-caliber arms, she stands out.

Courtesy Madison Schultz

Kelly Barnhill is visiting an ERA neighborhood that hasn't been seen in a quarter of a century.

Now a graduate assistant with Florida, Aubree Munro caught Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger, in addition to the current trio of Barnhill, Delanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio.

"She's got different stuff than I think I've ever seen," Munro said last spring. "She throws hard, but she's got a different kind of spin."

Speaking last year about what he observed of the rise ball, that pitch one of the most obvious differences between baseball and softball, former major league catcher Doug Mirabelli, then a volunteer assistant for the Gators, explained that Barnhill was different even from her peers.

"Kelly Barnhill's ball actually has a little bit of a jump at the end," Mirabelli said. "So it's rising and then it actually has more life to it where it will pop three or four inches in the last six to 10 feet. That makes it really hard as a hitter to be able to anticipate that much movement that late in the at-bat."

Not that the potential ace of a 2020 Olympic team isn't just as devastating through the rest of the strike zone.

The math has changed, especially for a team with depth like Florida. Barnhill isn't going to throw enough innings to strike out 600-plus batters like Monica Abbott or Cat Osterman even a decade or so ago. She isn't going to pitch often enough to win 40-plus games this season like Danielle Lawrie or even former Gator Stacey Nelson did not so long ago. But the company she keeps in ERA at the moment is the context by which it is clear that she is the nation's best pitcher.

She just happened to have a week that, even by her standards, stood out.

Previous winners:   Texas State's Randi Rupp (April 12) | Ohio State's Emily Clark (April 5) | Arizona's Danielle O'Toole (March 29) | Cal Poly's Sierra Hyland (March 22) | Syracuse's Sydney O'Hara (March 15) | Arkansas' Nicole Schroeder (March 8) | Texas A&M's Samantha Show (March 1) | LSU's Bailey Landry (Feb. 22) | Washington's Taran Alvelo (Feb. 15)

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