Oklahoma first baseman Shay Knighten crushed a series-defining homerun and the chances of Kelly Barnhill and Amanda Lorenz capturing a Women’s College World Series title in one swing.
Knighten stepped up to the plate against Barnhill in Game 1 of the 2017 WCWS with runners on first and second. The game was tied 4-4 after a game-tying two-run double by Lorenz in the 12th. It was now the 17th inning of an instant classic.
Barnhill was the USA Softball’s National Collegiate Player of the Year after posting a 26-4 record backed by an NCAA-best 0.51 ERA. Knighten would go on to finish sixth in OU history with 197 career RBI.
In short, it was an immovable object against an unstoppable force. The pressure built up between the dugouts at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City was intense. Something had to give.
So when the 1-1, two-out pitch from Barnhill zipped belt high and down the middle of the plate to Knighten, all of that pressure was released on the Oklahoma star’s three-run shot to right. After the home run made it 7-4 OU, UF could only muster one run in the bottom of the 17th to surrender Game 1 to the Sooners.
Oklahoma won 5-4 in Game 2 to clinch the 2017 WCWS and repeat as champions, something Florida did in 2014 and 2015.
Barnhill, UF’s all-time strikeout leader, and Lorenz, Florida’s all-time leader in batting average, OBP and walks, both had stellar careers from an individual standpoint.
But Barnhill, along with Lorenz, never got that close to a championship again. The two were recruited after the 2015 season to be the team’s new core after UF’s repeat. Things looked promising, or almost guaranteed, for Florida to hoist the WCWS trophy again after adding 2015’s No. 1 and No. 2 recruits according to FloSoftball.
But it never happened. The Gators never even returned to the finals after Barnhill and Lorenz’s sophomore campaigns.
But what if Barnhill’s fastball wasn’t smoked into the left-field seats? I think history plays out differently.
If Barnhill sits Knighten down in the 17th, Florida’s run in the bottom of the frame stands as the difference, and UF wins Game 1.
The Gators take that momentum into Game 2 and put the clamps on the Sooners, taking the series and winning the WCWS for the third time in four years.
UF’s two core players would have fulfilled their championship promise in just their second seasons.
And it’s up for speculation as to how a title in 2017 would have changed the course of Barnhill, Lorenz and UF’s final two seasons. Perhaps it would have catapulted them to more rings. Perhaps not. I’m not here to take away championships from Florida State and UCLA, the 2018 and 2019 winners, at all.
But I will say a scoreless 17th by Barnhill in 2017 would have allowed the Gators to take Game 1 and eventually Game 2.
And Barnhill and Lorenz, two of the greatest Gators to ever wear stirrups, would have gotten the championship they deserved.
Follow Dylan on Twitter @dylanoshea24 and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.