(Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics)
I can honestly say that I don't know if we would have won the National Championship last year had it not been for Kylee Hanson.
I had a lot of success during the postseason, but that was partly because Kylee took some of that burden off of me last year. It's hard to win a title with one ace on the staff, but as strange as this sounds, sometimes it can be difficult to win with two. Not because of a lack of talent, but because there's too much talent. Like most softball players, I'm a super competitive person, and I still remember I had to adjust when Kylee transferred into our program.
Kylee was a superstar at Florida Atlantic University...during her junior season she put up an ERA of just 0.76 - the best in the entire country. When she announced she was transferring to FSU for her redshirt senior season, I knew the talent she was bringing to our program.
And yet it wasn't always the easiest thing for me.
I wanted the ball in my hands, and Kylee was no different. If you asked almost any pitcher, they would probably say the same thing. The Bible talks about how important it is to avoid jealousy, and if I'm being honest, it was maybe something I needed to work on at the time.
It wasn't until a road trip against Boston College last April that Kylee and I finally had the chance to talk about everything. I realized I needed to get my head on straight, and that as long as the team was winning, it didn't matter who was pitching.
Once I realized how much Kylee supported me as well, it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. We became closer after that talk, and remain good friends to this day. In fact, Kylee still lives in Tallahassee, so I see her all the time.
That conversation also helped mark a turning point in our season. We had gotten off to a sluggish start that season with a 12-6 record, but starting that weekend in Chestnut Hill, we won 13 of our last 15 games to win the ACC Tournament Title.
That's when the test would really begin.
We swept our way through the Regionals to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals. This was a best-of-three series against LSU, with the winner going to Oklahoma City.
We lost the first game 6-5 to set up a must-win situation for us. My teammates gave me a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, so we were nine outs from setting up a decisive Game 3.
And that's when it happened.
I loaded the bases to put the tying run at the plate. The one thing I really wanted to avoid in that situation was allowing a grand slam, and sure enough that's exactly what I did. In one instant we went from a four-run lead to a tie game.
But I knew that my teammates were watching to see how I would handle adversity, and by this point in my life, my faith had made me a stronger person. One of my favorite Bible verses is Colossians 3:23, which says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord." My teammates were counting on me to keep them in the game, and that's exactly what I set out to do.
I was able to recover from the grand slam, and both teams began to trade scoreless frames, all the way through the 11th inning. Our team broke the tie with three runs in the top of the inning, setting the stage for me to close it out. By that point it was already the longest game of my college career, but I was able to come up with three more outs to force a Game 3.
And just like I said before, I don't know if we get to the World Series without Kylee Hanson. After throwing all those pitches the previous game, Kylee came in and threw a gem in Game 3 as we won 3-1.
We were heading to the World Series!