Every coach in the Scenic West Athletic Conference would agree that Brian Barnett, the conference's 2008 Player of the Year, is a ferocious hitter. But they would also say there is way to get him out.
The tactic Southern Idaho used this weekend was a heavy dose of breaking balls away and high fast balls. And for 11 at bats it worked " but on the 12th he took his frustration out on the Golden Eagles.
Barnett hit a walk-off, RBI-single Saturday to send the Western Nevada baseball team to a 3-2 victory at John L. Harvey Field. The hit put an end to an out-of-character performance for the sophomore. Barnett went 2-for-11 with three strikeouts and four walks in three games. He missed the first game of the series after serving a mandatory one-game suspension for arguing balls and strikes last week against Southern Nevada.
"It's been frustrating a little bit," said the former McQueen standout. "They've come after me a little more today and yesterday and it is a little bit frustrating when you don't get a good pitch to hit. They're spotting balls on the black that you just can't even foul off."
The 14th-ranked Wildcats (26-6, 32-12) didn't leave unscathed. They lost the first game 5-1, cutting their lead over second-place CSN (25-7, 33-15) to just one game in the SWAC with eight games to play.
Barnett had added motivation when he stepped to the plate with runners on first and second in the bottom of the seventh. Southern Idaho (17-15, 24-21) played the numbers game by intentionally walking the Wildcats' two hitter, Lance Ray who leads in the team in batting average and RBIs. Before Barnett took his first swing, catcher Jerome Pena told him to just do what he has been doing all season: Coming up with the clutch hit.
He took a 2-1 fastball to left field with the defense shaded to right, driving in Jay Skilton, who led off the inning with a single off of starter Casey Lish. Tyler Barrett, who walked Barnett twice Friday, relieved Lish after Ray was walked.
"(The walk) got me fired up and I really wanted to capitalize," Barnett said. "I struggled a little bit this weekend and I wanted to hit a ball hard and end this game."
Barnett saved the Wildcats from a potential disaster. Just last Friday they were up four games on Southern Nevada, but they dropped the final two games of their four-game set to the Coyotes the next day. The losses dropped them to a two game lead, making every game even more important in the race for the conference title and the rights to host the conference tourney.
CSN, who swept Colorado Northwestern this week, ends the season on the road against Eastern Utah (10-20, 17-17) and Salt Lake (13-17, 20-22).
WNC plays Salt Lake at home beginning Friday and ends the season on the road at Colorado Northwestern (3-29, 7, 39).
"Theoretically, we could win three out of four next week and (it could) not be enough," WNC coach D.J. Whittemore said. "We could win seven out of eight and (it could) not be enough.
"It just makes the week miserable to think what if and down the road. It's just not productive and I've been doing way too much of it. I've got to live what I preach and what I'm preaching is make the best out of everyday. If we do that, then wherever we end up I'll be happy."
Barnett shouldn't have had the chance to end it. The Wildcats were victim to a bad call at the plate in the fourth inning when Pena came home on an error and slid across home plate before being tagged. Home plate umpire Mike Evans ruled Pena out, saying he didn't touch the plate. The play set Whittemore into a frenzy as he rushed from the first-base side coach's box to argue the call. Pena would have made the score 3-1.
The Golden Eagles tied the game up in the top of the seventh after Ryan Lay opened with a single off reliever Kyle Starratt (4-2). Tanner Craswell moved him over on a sacrifice bunt and Garrett Wolff hit a an RBI-single to left field to bring Lay in and tie the game at 2-2.
Jordan Lewis started the game for the Wildcats, going 4.2 innings on four hits. He was scratched from his normal No. 1 spot in the rotation Friday due to a swore left arm.