The Lady Greyhounds had a solid offensive nucleus complemented by a good defense and talented pitcher Kelly Barnhill.
Behind its strengths, Pope won a team-record 28 games in 2012, and while some of the offensive punch from that team graduated at the end of the season, expectations were that the defense would still be strong and Barnhill would return to bolster the pitching staff.
But a tear to the lateral meniscus in her left knee during the offseason sidelined Barnhill for the early part of the fall, and Pope found itself with an 8-7 record during her absence. However, once Barnhill was cleared to play by doctors, it was as if she hadn’t missed a step.
Barnhill returned with a vengeance, going 16-3 with a 0.52 ERA in 19 starts with 257 strikeouts to just 24 walks in 122 innings pitched.
Ultimately, Barnhill, the 2013 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Softball Pitcher of the Year, helped lead Pope back to the Class AAAAA state finals and a fourth-place finish.
“Coming back to play was a difficult process,” Barnhill said. “I love playing and helping the team, but for the longest time, I couldn’t practice and help, even though I was with them.”
Barnhill was sidelined for six weeks and rehabbed her knee injury for another month.
“I had to get back in training for pitching,” the right-hander said. “We started with the fundamentals and physical therapy to get my knee going again with my pitching motion.
“The recovery got me back to where I had been. It was a happy moment for me when I was told I could play again. When I got back, I think I even pitched a no-hitter.”
Despite the early-season setback, Barnhill earned the pitcher of the year honor in consecutive seasons.
“It’s a great honor to get pitcher of the year two years in a row,” Barnhill said. “There are a lot of great pitchers in the county, so to get it back-to-back is pretty amazing.”
After Pope got off to the unsteady start without Barnhill, her return helped the Lady Greyhounds win 22 of their final 26 games, en route to a new team of 30 wins. Pope won 11 games via shutout and eight by one-run margins.
Barnhill threw five no-hitters, including one in the state finals and a perfect game against Cambridge. She also gave up only one hit in a 2-0 loss to eventual state champion Ola in Columbus.
“I’m just really grateful that all of the hard work during recovery paid off,” Barnhill said. “The doctors helped me back to 100 percent, and we were able to make another run at a state championship.”