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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Breaking Barnhill: Tough pitching matchup lies ahead for A&M

Keeli+Milligan+drew+a+hit+by+pitch+to+start+the+game-winning+rally+in+game+two+against+Tennessee+last+Saturday.
Photo by By Lawrence Smelser

Keeli Milligan drew a hit by pitch to start the game-winning rally in game two against Tennessee last Saturday.

They say if you want to be the best, you must play the best.
And that is exactly what Texas A&M will be doing as it opens its Women’s College World Series campaign Thursday morning when the Aggies take on No. 1 Florida.
On top of playing the top-ranked Gators (55-8), the Aggies will be tasked in facing arguably the nation’s best pitcher, Kelly Barnhill (24-3), who has a NCAA-best 0.36 ERA this season.
“Barnhill is challenging,” A&M head coach Jo Evans simply put it before the team’s departure to Oklahoma City Tuesday morning. “It’s challenging to string a number of hits against her. You’ve got to make sure you can try to manufacture some runs any way you can.
“Velocity is key, she throws the ball really, really hard, so we know that we’re going to have to make sure we can catch up with her and really stay patient. Try to get on top of the ball, and stay patient understanding your at-bats are going to be challenging.”
While Evans believes her team has a tall task ahead, some of her players may think the matchup is not quite that complicated.
“It’s really simple – she throws a riseball, got to get the top of it,” junior first baseman Tori Vidales said. “It’s not really much film to watch… We’ve watched them throughout the season. We know what she’s going to throw.”
Aside from Barnhill’s minimal ERA, the sophomore right-hander has also struck out 333 batters this season – sixth best in the nation.
“We know that [Barnhill] throws hard and that she throws a lot of strikeouts,” sophomore third baseman Riley Sartain added. “We’re trying to plan our attack based off that, kind of get ahead early in at-bats and then hopefully we can chase her and get another pitcher in there.”
While Barnhill and Florida’s pitching staff has been phenomenal this year, the Gators were one of the three SEC teams A&M has not faced this season.
Vidales, however, recalled having success at the plate against the Gators a season ago, hitting four of the six home runs allowed by Florida all season. In the lone game the Aggies won, Barnhill was the starting pitcher and gave up a solo shot to A&M’s current second baseman Kaitlyn Alderink.
“For us, it’s something we can’t forget and we know they’re not going to forget that we were able to score runs on their pitchers and be successful against them,” Vidales said. “We’re hoping to take that into this game on Thursday and be successful against them no matter who they throw.”
In anticipation of a tight, low-scoring affair, defense will be critical on both sides – something the Aggies struggled with in the Super Regional against Tennessee.
Although A&M committed six errors against the Vols last weekend, Evans was pleased with how her team played clean ball to close the decisive game three.
“Those last five innings we played at the Super Regional were as good defensively as any innings we’ve played all year,” Evans said “That’s that reminder of, ‘Oh yeah, this is who we are actually, this is the ball club we are.’”
It may have been the players who fixed the fielding problems, but Evans’ change in tone when addressing the need to shore up the sloppiness may have been a key part in A&M turning the page on defense.
“Coach [Evans] came out after we made those few defensive miscues and she said, ‘Alright guys, not going to be nice right now… Y’all need to get it together. Y’all need to figure something out because y’all do not look good,’” Sartain recalled. “I think it was just kind of a wake-up call because usually she is so encouraging and warm and that instance she wasn’t.”
In hopes of continuing the hot ways, Evans concluded that it is essential the Aggies not make the game more than it is in order to keep up the success on a stage no current player has ever played on.
“It’s going to be really important for our kids to calm themselves down and remember the game’s the game,” Evans said. “The game does not know it’s the College World Series, the game knows it’s the game and we’ve got to really treat it like that.”
A&M opens its Women’s College World Series run this Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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