The Florida-Alabama softball rivalry is one of the fiercest in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gators or the Crimson Tide have won the SEC regular-season championship in the past 11 seasons.
No. 6 Florida is only two games behind first-place No. 5 Alabama in the conference standings with nine SEC games remaining for each team. This weekend’s series will be critical to determining who claims the 2019 SEC crown, starting with Friday evening’s doubleheader.
Here are three matchups to look out for when UF (37-9, 9-6 SEC) and Alabama (42-4, 11-4 SEC) clash at 5:30 p.m.
The Seasoned Slinger vs. The Young Gun
Kelly Barnhill is a household name in the world of softball.
UF’s top pitcher is a two-time All-American and was selected by the the Chicago Bandits with the first overall pick in the National Pro Fastpitch College Draft on Monday night.
Barnhill (25-6) is making a strong campaign for another First-Team All-American selection in 2019. Opponents have mustered only a .150 batting average against her this season, and she’s quickly approaching Stacey Nelson’s program record for strikeouts (1,116, 2006-09) with a mark of 1,101.
However, Alabama has a strong counter for Barnhill in freshman Montana Fouts.
Fouts (12-1) started the season as one of the country’s hottest pitchers, allowing only four earned runs in nine appearances (55 innings). Her 1.00 ERA is actually lower than Barnhill’s (1.46).
Fouts has shown signs of weakness in the SEC. Her ERA in SEC play is 2.15, and she picked up her first loss of the season against Texas A&M on March 24, a game where she allowed four runs on seven hits.
Leadoff batter battle
It’s an established notion that when the leadoff hitter gets on, good things happen. This is no exception for the Gators and Crimson Tide.
Elissa Brown leads off for Alabama, and she is a scoring threat any time she gets on first. She is second in the SEC in stolen bases (33) and has only been caught stealing twice this season. Brown also is third on the team in batting average (.344).
Kaylee Tow and Bailey Hemphill sit behind Brown in the order and lead the Tide in batting average and RBIs.
UF’s Jade Caraway isn’t as efficient as Brown (she has no steals and a .261 batting average), but she has team batting average/home run leaders Amanda Lorenz and Kendyl Lindaman following her. Caraway instantly becomes a running threat when she gets on base with two dangerous hitters on-deck.
Power struggle in the three-spot
You simply can’t leave pitches over the plate for Hemphill and Lindaman.
The two players lead their respective teams in home runs and RBIs. Hemphill has slugged 19 homers and 61 RBIs, while Lindaman has produced 14 and 49 marks in those categories.
But Lindaman’s numbers exceed Hemphill’s in conference play. UF’s catcher has a .388 batting average, seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 15 contests. Hemphill’s batting average decreased from .349 total to .275 against SEC pitching. She also has six homers and 15 RBIs in 15 SEC games.
Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr and contact him at email@example.com.
Pitcher Kelly Barnhill has a 1.46 ERA and has only allowed an opponent batting average of .150. She is only 15 strikeouts away from Stacey Nelson's school record of 1,116.