There are many positives to take away from this year’s Florida softball team despite Saturday’s season-ending loss to Alabama.
The team won a second-consecutive SEC Tournament Championship, cruised through NCAA Regional play and arrived at the Women’s College World Series as an elite threat.
The way the season ended on a national stage will sting for quite some time, and deservedly so. But the Gators must now shift their focus toward the future.
Next year’s Florida team will look significantly different. Two of the most decorated players to ever wear orange and blue, Kelly Barnhill and Amanda Lorenz, both played their last collegiate games at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday. It was an emotional send-off.
“Being a Florida Gator has meant the absolute world to me,” Barnhill said in a post-game press conference amidst a flood of tears. “The culture that (coach Tim Walton) created here, I’ve grown so much in the last four years.”
Barnhill, a two-time SEC Pitcher of the Year, brought an SEC-worst offense (by batting average) to college softball’s biggest stage this year. The senior performed admirably, recording 202 of the previous 211 outs in the postseason prior to her early departure in Saturday’s final game against the Crimson Tide.
For Lorenz, last year’s SEC Player of the Year, it was a similarly emotional departure. The most prolific slugger in program history leaves UF with a .406 career batting average. At times when the Gators’ lineup struggled, Lorenz could provide the necessary spark to salvage a victory.
The impact that these two had on this year’s team cannot be understated, and the void that now forms in their absence is recognized by Walton.
“We have some major holes to fill – and the expectations aren’t changing,” Walton said in a release. “We have an extremely long way to go between now and next February to be relevant again.”
As for next season, the core of the team will be built around returning players including second basemen Hannah Adams, designated hitter Kendyl Lindaman, catcher Jordan Roberts and shortstop Sophia Reynoso, among others.
Michigan State transfer Charla Echols, who hit .359 with seven home runs in 2019, should provide a welcome addition to a Florida offense that struggled to gain traction the entire season.
Though it will take time to adjust to life in the post-Barnhill and Lorenz era, Walton knows all too well about returning to a championship level, and the Gators should quickly get back to their winning ways.
Follow Jack Braverman on Twitter @jack_braverman and contact him at [email protected].