From WNC to Nevada, Brian Barnett’s a … A hitting machine | NevadaAppeal.com

From WNC to Nevada, Brian Barnett’s a … A hitting machine

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

Brian Barnett has fond memories of sitting in the stands at Peccole Park as a youngster and cheering on the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team.

“Oh, yeah, I always came out here and had a good time watching these guys play,” said Barnett on Sunday after hitting a home run in the Wolf Pack’s 10-5 victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Peccole Park. “The players I remember the most? It’s probably from the recent years, guys like Shawn Scobee and Shaun Kort.”

Shaun Kort? One of his teammates on this year’s Wolf Pack team? That’s who he remembers idolizing as a young kid growing up in Reno?

“I know,” smiled Barnett. “It’s weird. I know he’s only a year older than I am. But, for some reason, I remember coming out here and watching him play.”

Barnett, who was born in August 1988, is actually just four months older than Kort.

When told that Barnett used to enjoy watching him play as a young kid, Kort just shook his head and said, “He said that?” smiled Kort. “I guess I’m an old guy now.”

Barnett was a senior at McQueen High in 2007 when he watched the freshman Kort hit .392 for the Pack. But you must forgive Barnett for thinking that the 2007 season was a long time ago. The powerful right-handed hitter, after all, has packed in three very eventful seasons since that year.

After graduating from McQueen High, Barnett would go on to become one of the top hitters in junior college on the west coast at Western Nevada College in 2008 and 2009. He hit .364 as a freshman at WNC with 11 homers and 44 RBI. As a sophomore he hit .338 with 10 homers and 52 RBI.

He was only getting started.

This year, his first with the Wolf Pack, Barnett quickly established himself as one of the top hitters in the Western Athletic Conference. He is also one of the top power hitters the Wolf Pack has had since joining the WAC in 2001.

Barnett hit .375, third on the team, during the regular season. He led the team with 18 homers and 71 RBI.

His 71 RBI leads the WAC and are the most by a Pack player since Matt Ortiz drove in 76 in 2000. His 18 homers are second in the WAC and are the most by a Pack player since his boyhood idol, Shawn Scobee, hit 22 in 2006.

“It’s been a good year,” the Wolf Pack junior said. “It definitely picked up at the end of the year.”

Barnett definitely knows how to “pick up” a season.

Over the past six games (since May 16), Barnett is an eye-opening 13-for-23 (.565) with seven home runs, 22 RBI and 13 runs scored. Those numbers, not surprisingly, earned him the WAC Player of the Week award on Monday.

“It’s been a work in progress,” Pack coach Gary Powers said of Barnett’s first season in a Pack uniform. “He’s learning everyday. And we’re learning about him, too. As we’ve gotten to know him better we’ve been able to help him more. And he’s worked real hard to get to this point.”

Barnett has a .755 slugging average (first in the WAC) and a .427 on base percentage.

“He’s made some great adjustments this year,” Powers said. “He has a much more consistent approach now. And he works real hard at it. He’s just a real strong kid, very competitive.”

Barnett started supplying power right from the start of his Pack career this year. But his season through April was littered with a lot of swings that came up empty, including one game in which he fanned four times. He currently has struck out 55 times, the most in the WAC.

“That came from trying to do too much,” Powers said. “But that’s the adjustment he had to make and he’s done a much better job lately and why his production has gone up.”

Very few first-year Pack players have produced as much as Barnett has this season. Some notable rookie years by Pack hitters this decade were turned in by Nick Melino (.352) in 2009, Kort in 2007, Konrad Schmidt (.349, 47 RBI) in 2007, Scobee (18 homers) in 2005, Brett Hayes (.365, 63 RBI) in 2003 and Kevin Kouzmanoff (WAC Player of the Year) in 2003.

Barnett’s 2010 season might be the best of all.

“My year has been right around what I expected it to be,” Barnett said. “Some numbers are better than I thought and some are worse. But I feel good about where I’m at right now. There were some spots where I could have done better but overall it’s about what I expected.”

The Pack hasn’t had a legitimate, consistent power hitter in the middle of its lineup like Barnett since Scobee bashed 40 homers combined in 2005 and 2006.

“He’s been a great middle-of-the-order hitter for us,” Powers said.

Barnett had to make two big adjustments in his career over the last three seasons.

He had to go from using metal bats in high school at McQueen in 2007 (where he hit 23 homers as a senior) to using a wood bat with WNC in 2008 and back to metal this year with the Pack.

“Both were big adjustments,” Barnett said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. It all comes down to learning how to swing with a wood bat and a metal bat. People think that it’s easy with metal, that you just come out here and swing and the ball flies off your bat. But it’s not easy. You have to learn how to hit with metal, just like you do with wood.”

The surge and consistency in his production over the last month reflects his comfort level at the plate.

“I feel like my old self now,” Barnett smiled.