DES MOINES —
Despite not having started since June 21 and not having pitched at all in weeks, Barker toed the rubber well for three innings on Saturday in the state championship. The freshman allowed five hits, but just one earned run while striking out four batters on the way to suffering his first loss of the season.
“To me, it was just another game and they (Mason City Newman) was just another team,” Barker said. “I haven’t pitched since the IMS game and I had a pretty bad night there, so I’ve been working a lot on my pitching since then. I’ve worked on my command a lot since then.”
“Robert has a good arm. He’s one of our better pitchers when he’s on,” Scott said of his freshman hurler. “That’s one of the things he’s been working on the past few weeks has been giving himself an opportunity to come up here and throw. He’s got tremendous potential and, if he works hard, the sky’s the limit for that kid.”
The four-run deficit seemed larger considering the kind of clutch defense and clutch pitching that Newman threw at Van Buren on Saturday. The Warriors stranded eight runners on the day as Wadle walked just one batter and picked off a runner to end an inning when he caught Saunders stretching off first to end the fifth.
“We had more hits than them, but we knew coming in that Newman wasn’t going to give us the same opportunities Don Bosco or Van Meter did,” Saunders said. “It just simply came down to execution. We didn’t execute as well as Mason City Newman did. They capitalized on opportunities. We didn’t.”
The Warriors had one chance to potentially tie the game as hits by Barker, Noah Whitten and Tyson Sprouse loaded the bases in the sixth. Suddenly, Tanner Smith stood in as the game-tying run with only one out and chance to help Van Buren continue a rally that might ultimately allow them to complete this magical ride to a first-ever state title.