CLEARWATER — Lexi Kilfoyl has a history of thriving under pressure. After all, the former Academy at the Lakes softball standout led her high school team to consecutive state titles en route to being named the Gatorade and Florida Dairy Farmers’ state player of the year in 2018 and 2019.
On Thursday, Kilfoyl took the mound for Alabama’s second game at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational. The game was big, a matchup with undefeated Washington, ranked No. 1 by ESPN and USA Today in separate polls.
The stands were packed. The game was on national television.
And Kilfoyl had the spotlight. At home. In front of family and friends for the first time with the Crimson Tide.
Such homecomings often come with pitfalls. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy knows. That is why he talked with his prized freshman on the drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham before boarding the team flight for the tournament earlier this week.
“I told her there was no added pressure,” Murphy said. “You’re coming home. Everybody loves you. We love you. Don’t overdo it. You don’t have to impress anybody. You’re already with us.
“We’ve gone to other tournaments where kids come home and it’s not a pretty sight. They put all this extra pressure on themselves. Aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, Everybody from their high school. Their dog. They’re all there. And they just fold.”
Not Kilfoyl. She finished with a one-hit shutout and recorded six strikeouts in an 8-0 victory over the Huskies that lasted just five innings. It was the Crimson Tide’s first-ever run-rule shutout over a top-ranked team in the country.
This was the kind of performance Kilfoyl hoped to deliver ever since committing to Alabama as an eighth grader. She was accustomed to it, pitching at the high school level since seventh grade and joining the USA junior women’s national training team.
But the magnitude of playing for rabid fan fase did not hit Kilfoyl until she arrived on the Tuscaloosa campus as a student.
“I showed up and there was a crowd full of people and it was only a fall ball game,” Kilfoyl said. “It was completely different, just to see how much the fans really appreciate and support us.”
There were other difficult transitions.
Kilfoyl went from a small, private high school to a college with more than 38,000 students and a softball program that has more than 2,600 season-ticket holders.
She also takes the mound now with the understanding that she is no longer the ace or workhorse of a staff. Kilfoyl is part of a stellar Alabama rotation that goes four-deep. She could start another game or come in as a reliever for the remainder of Alabama’s games in Clearwater this weekend.
“Everyone on the staff could be a No. 1 at another school,” Murphy said. “You just have to learn to be a really good teammate, to share the wealth. And I think the thing we do best is have vicarious joy in someone else’s success. So the other three pitchers are just as happy for Lex as if they did it and that comes through.”
The adjustment was made easier this summer when Kilfoyl played for the USA junior national training team that won a under-19 World Cup title. She rarely pitched, which helped save her arm. Whenever Kilfoyl did take the mound, whether it was in practice or a game, she faced the kind of hitters she would see in college.
“I threw to a lot of these girls that I’m now seeing in college tournaments,” she said.
On Friday, the homecoming continued. The Crimson Tide players and coaches planned to visit Kilfoyl’s house to meet her parents and friends.
“I do promise, if we can, to schedule a game near a player’s hometown at least once in their career,” Murphy said. “It’s fun. We get to go to their house and the mom usually cooks a meal. We get to see their neighborhood, sometimes go to their high school if we have time. Just another way to bond.”
St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational
Where: Eddie C. Moore Complex, 2780 Drew St., Clearwater
Tickets: Tournament passes are sold out. Single-game tickets for Fields 1 and 3 can be purchased at the gate on the day of the game for $25 ($20 for youth). Find more info here.
Friday: South Carolina vs. Virginia Tech, 10 a.m. (ESPNU), Alabama vs. USF, 10:30 a.m. (ESPN3), Minnesota vs. Oklahoma State, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN3), Georgia vs. Kansas, noon (SEC), Washington vs. FSU, 1 p.m. (ESPNU), Liberty vs. Missouri, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN3), Northwestern vs. Georgia, 3 p.m. (ESPN3), Texas Tech vs. James Madison, 3 p.m. (ESPN3), UCLA vs. Alabama, 4 p.m. (ESPNU), Oklahoma State vs. Missouri, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN3), Minnesota vs. FSU, 6 p.m. (ESPN3), South Carolina vs. Kansas, 6 p.m. (ESPN3), Washington vs. Liberty, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
Saturday: Texas Tech vs. Georgia, 10 a.m. (ESPN3), Alabama vs. Oklahoma State, 10:30 a.m. (SEC), Kansas vs. Northwestern, 10:30 a.m. (ESPN3), UCLA vs. Liberty, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN3), Missouri vs. Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. (ESPN3), Kansas vs. James Madison, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN3), FSU vs. Northwestern, 2 p.m. (ESPN3), UCLA vs. Georgia, 4 p.m. (ESPNU), Virginia Tech vs. Minnesota, 5 p.m. (ESPN3), USF vs. Texas Tech, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN3), James Madison vs. Missouri, 6 p.m. (ESPN3), Washington vs. South Carolina, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Sunday: Georgia vs. USF, 9 a.m. (ESPN3), Missouri vs. Minnesota, 9:30 a.m. (ESPN3), Texas Tech vs. Washington, 10 a.m. (ESPNU), Team USA vs. Oklahoma State, 10 a.m. (ESPN3), FSU vs. Liberty, noon (ESPN3), Northwestern vs. Virginia Tech, noon (ESPN3), James Madison vs. South Carolina, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN3), Team USA vs. Washington, 12:30 p.m (ESPN3), USF vs. UCLA, 3 p.m. (ESPN3), FSU vs. UCLA, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)