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By Tom Ham
email@example.com | 265-7819
Four runs from his offense in the bottom of the first inning proved to be more than enough cushion for senior left-handed pitcher Hunter Barnes in the debut of the Hunt High varsity baseball team in the fifth annual Golden Leaf Invitational in Fleming Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Barnes scattered seven hits in a route-going performance and the Warriors emerged with a 5-2 triumph against North Johnston of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference.
After yielding a run in each of the first two innings, Barnes blanked the Panthers the last five innings. He did not issue a walk and struck out five.
“I just tried to keep the ball in the strike zone, keep it low and use the run on my fastball to my advantage,” Barnes explained his mound approach. “I took last year off from pitching, but they needed me this year and I took on the role. I wanted to do what the team needed and it’s been a good fit.”
Barnes needed only 84 pitches, quipping: “I expect to go the distance every time out.”
The Warriors (9-4) of the 3-A Big East Conference struck for four runs in the first on three walks, two hit batsmen, a pair of wild pitches, singles by senior first baseman Matt Jacobs and Barnes and a sacrifice fly from sophomore Tyson Bass. Jacobs singled in Hunt’s final run in the third.
North Johnston senior center fielder Trey Whitley opened the game with a single, stole second base and scampered home on senior catcher Colby Hall’s single. Junior shortstop Daylen Hinnant connected for the tournament’s first 2018 home run, a shot over the left-field fence in the second..
From Hinnant’s blast, Barnes blanked the Panthers (7-4) on three hits, working out of a jam in the fifth. Whitley lined into a double play after head coach Brian Ford insisted his dribbler down the third-base line earlier in the at-bat was touched before rolling into foul territory.
Also in the first, Hunt backed Barnes with an inning-ending double play when senior center fielder Josh Fuller gloved Nathan Woodard’s fly ball and cut down the base runner attempting to advance from second to third after the catch.
“The flip of the coin didn’t go our way,” Ford commented tongue-in-cheek.
“The game was a lot closer than 5-2. We outhit them but we made some base-running blunders. That first inning ... you’ve got to be ready. That’s why you play seven innings.”
While starting pitcher Woodard, a sophomore left-hander, struggled in taking the loss, Dylan Pitts, also a sophomore left-hander, relieved and stopped the Warriors on four hits and two walks the final 4 2/3 innings.
“He did phenomenal,” Ford said of Pitts. “He went in and shut them down.
“We’re in every game; we’re close.”
Score by innings:
North Johnston 110 000 0 — 2
Hunt 410 000 x — 5
WP-Hunter Barnes 7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO. LP-Nathan Woodard 1 1/3 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 0 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Colby Hall 2-3, RBI; Daylen Hinnant 1-3, HR, RBI; Trey Whitley 1-3, Dylan Pitts 1-3, Jameson Clifton 1-3, Ty Narron 1-3; Hunt: Matt Jacobs 2-3, 2 RBI; Tyson Bass 2-2, 2B. Trey Dail 1-2, RBI; Hunter Barnes 1-3.