Local softball stars soak in national exposure

It’s a rare feat when any local athlete — or any athlete for that matter — makes a national team.

More uncommon is when two athletes from the same hometown earn such prestigious designation together.

Academy at the Lakes product Lexi Kilfoyl was a member of the USA Softball U-19 Women’s National Team and is now a freshman righthanded pitcher at the University of Alabama. (Courtesy of USA Softball)

But, that’s what recently happened to Academy at the Lakes product Lexi Kilfoyl and Land O’ Lakes High School product Callie Turner.

Both pitchers earned state champions for their respective schools. Now they can also say they were a part of a World Cup championship team.

Back in December, the Land O’ Lakes natives were two of just 20 athletes nationwide chosen to the USA Softball U-19 Women’s National Team.

Fast forward to this summer, and both 2019 high school graduates competed together on an international stage representing Team USA.

Following a weeklong training camp in June in Houston, Texas, the U-19 squad competed in a series of international tournaments and games that took them to Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Atlanta, Georgia; and, Columbus, Georgia.

The team then was whittled down to 17 players and three alternates, in advance of August’s WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) U-19 Women’s Softball World Cup in Irvine, California.

Kilfoyl made the 17-player final roster, while Turner was named an alternate player.

The USA Softball U-19 Women’s National Team recently won its third straight WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) World Cup. They went undefeated and beat Japan 4-3 in the championship game.

Rather than travel with the club for the World Cup, Turner opted to return home to Land O’ Lakes to train for her upcoming freshman season at the University of Tennessee.

Though Turner, a 5-foot-10 lefty, participated in only a few tournaments, throwing a handful of innings, she cherished the chance to represent her country.

“It was definitely an honor,” said Turner, a former Florida 6A Pitcher and Player of the Year  who guided Land O’ Lakes to a state title in 2017. “You definitely have like this pressure on your back, but it’s kind of like a good pressure that everyone’s rooting for you and not for the other team, so it feels like you’re just getting so much confidence when you’re wearing that uniform, and it’s so nice.”

Naturally, Turner watched and supported the national squad from afar, as it proceeded to go undefeated and win its third straight World Cup. “I was cheering them on the whole time,” she said.

She said competing with fellow elite-level softball peers in her age range was a beneficial experience that showed her “to keep working hard…to get better.”

Kilfoyl, meanwhile, provided a more crucial role for Team USA as it went 10-0 in the World Cup tournament that featured 15 other countries.

The two-time state champion and 2019 Florida Gatorade Softball Player of the Year went 2-0 in the circle with eight strikeouts and no runs allowed in 7.1 innings pitched — facing Czech Republic, Canada, Chinese Taipei and China, respectively. She also added a three-run pinch-hit home run in a 15-0 win over Botswana.

The 6-foot-2 righty was eager to provide a bigger contribution to the junior national team this time around, compared to when in 2017 she was the squad’s youngest member as a 16-year-old high school sophomore.

Land O’ Lakes High School product Lexi Turner was a member of the USA Softball U-19 Women’s National Team and is now a freshman lefthanded pitcher at the University of Tennessee.

“Last time I felt like I was a supporter on the bench the entire time, (so) it was a lot better being able to say that I was part of winning the whole thing,” said Kilfoyl, now a freshman at the University of Alabama.

“Playing against every country was different, because they all like play the game very differently, and being able to see how other people do it was really cool; seeing it and preparing for it was definitely a nice experience.”

Also playing alongside Turner for a portion of the early summer made the experience even better, Kilfoyl said.

“It was definitely unreal,” Kilfoyl said. “Not many people can say that that they’ve done that, that they’ve started playing with one of their childhood best friends that has literally been there since Little League and pretty much make it to the highest of the highs in the softball world playing for USA Softball…”

Kilfoyl’s favorite moment actually came in a game where she didn’t get any action.

It happened to be Team USA’s 4-3 come-from-behind, extra-inning, walk-off win over Japan in the World Cup championship game on Aug. 17.

With Japan leading 3-0 after the top of the eighth, pinch hitter and Oregon State player Francesca Hammoude tied it on a home run. University of Florida’s Charla Echols followed with a two-out triple and scored the winning run on a base hit by University of Oregon’s Jasmine Sievers.

“The last game, that was really crazy,” Kilfoyl recalled. “I thought at one point we were losing 3-nothing and then when (Hammoude) hit that home run, it completely brought us back in the game. She was actually one of the players that didn’t have much (playing) time, so it kind of went to prove that it doesn’t have to be done by someone that’s been in the lineup every single game.”

With the national team run over, Kilfoyl and Turner have turned their attention to preparing for their respective inaugural college campaigns in the powerhouse Division I Southeastern Conference.

For Turner, that consists of improving pitch location and managing expectations as a young college player.

“You can throw as hard as you can, but they can still hit it further, so if you hit your spots more, it’s more effective to where you can get them out, so I really worked on that the last couple months,” Turner said.

“I think I just want to be the best that I can be, don’t put too much pressure on myself because I know in the end that’s just not going to help me. So, go in with an open mind knowing that I am going to get hit, I am going to have some bad games, but it’s just how you get better from that experience.”

Kilfoyl said she is looking to add velocity to her 68-mph fastball and fine-tune the rest of her repertoire.

“I definitely want to get stronger and throw harder,” she said, “and for sure want to work on really being able to command my pitches, so I can get some starting time.”

Published September 11, 2019

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