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Tournaments | Story | 6/30/2019

Barnhart, Canes beckon attention

Cory Van Dyke        
Photo: Hunter Barnhart (Perfect Game)

MARIETTA, Ga. – Hunter Barnhart took the mound for Canes National 17u Sunday morning at S. Walter Kelly Memorial Field on Kennesaw State’s Marietta campus. A dozen radar guns were raised behind the backstop to take in the sizzling fastball that reached 92 mph and was complimented by a knee-buckling curveball.

Barnhart made quick work of his one inning on the bump, striking out one batter and inducing a double play while tossing nine of his 10 pitches for strikes in his first appearance at the 2019 WWBA 17u National Championship. Canes National 17u head coach Jeff Petty has come accustomed to seeing Barnhart make opposing batters look foolish.

“Electric stuff. Strike thrower. He competes,” Petty said. “Hunter didn’t come out here to showcase. He came out here to win. That’s what he wants to do. He gives you a chance because he floods the strike zone with that fastball and breaking ball and it’s pretty electric.”

When Barnhart isn’t spinning it on the rubber, he’s been known to spin a spiral as the starting quarterback for his high school in California. While playing the most important position on the gridiron and on the diamond where the ball is in his hands every play, Barnhart has seen the qualities it allows him to take on.

“Football helps me being a leader during baseball,” Barnhart said. “Because quarterback takes the lead on offense. Being a pitcher helps me take the lead also.”

“He’s a competitor. He’s a leader,” Petty said. “Those are the kind of guys that you want.”

For the two-sport athlete, though, baseball is the path that provides the biggest long term impact moving forward. Barnhart is ranked as the No. 51 overall baseball player in the 2020 class by Perfect Game and the No. 12 righthanded pitcher. The California native will stay on the West Coast and attend Arizona State University.

However, each outing on the mound with the Canes is one step closer to his ultimate dream of competing in the MLB.

“It just actually hit me two years ago,” Barnhart said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I actually have some potential of going further in baseball than I thought I would.’ It’s definitely still in the making. I don’t believe that I’m the best I can be. I still have work to do.”

And how is Barnhart going to continue to work towards improving his game? It all revolves back to the person who he names as the biggest influence on his baseball career, his father, Ty.

“He’s always been by my side just helping me and pushing me to do the best,” Barnhart said. “He’s that guy who just stays up until 2 o’clock in the morning looking at videos trying to help me, trying to send me videos, working out with me, throwing with me.”

Following a performance at the Perfect Game National Showcase where his heater was up to 94 mph, Barnhart admits that he’s a little nervous about potentially receiving a call for the 2019 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Either way, Barnhart is now attempting to help lead the Canes National 17u team to another 17u WWBA title. In the tournament’s 16 previous years, the Canes have won the tournament twice in 2014 and 2017 with players like Desmond Lindsay and Xavier Edwards leading those teams.

In the Canes 14-4 win over Palm Beach Select 2020 on Sunday, Petty used a learning moment with his team when they surrendered three seemingly meaningless runs in the last inning. However, Petty noted that the loss of focus that allowed those three runs could be the difference between resting with a bye or battling in the first round of bracket play on Wednesday night.

“They have to stay focused,” Petty said. “It’s a really tall task to win this tournament. You really can’t have lapses. You have to be focused at all times. One bad inning can put you out, so you have to come to the ballpark every day prepared to play at a high level or it could be your last day.”

Canes National are now 4-0 in pool play having outscored opponents 28-8. It’s a star-studded roster with top players from all over the country. Barnhart is from California, Johnny Castagnozzi is from New York, and Dominic Johnson is from Oklahoma for example. 

“Playing for the Canes is probably the most surreal experience I’ve been in in my life,” said Johnson, an Oklahoma State pledge. “We have 30 something guys and we’re all committed and we’re all studs. You just have to grind everyday to even be on the field with us.”

The Canes are currently in the midst of a 17 day road trip. It’s that time spent together that creates a bond between these players who are all from different parts of the United States.

“We’re together all the time and these guys love each other,” Petty said. “They’ve been together, they’ve been playing, and the chemistry is great when you get like-minded guys who want to play together at a high level.”

Petty and Co. are known for the astounding success of getting guys to the next level. On his current roster, only four players are uncommitted. The evidence speaks for itself when Canes Baseball has produced 1,445 college commitments, 314 drafted players, and 20 MLB debuted players.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Petty said. “I do think that we put a high priority on preparing and competing and being good teammates and being good people off the field. If you put all those things on the table, maybe that gives us as good a chance to win.”

And so that Canes have as good of a chance as anyone to run away with the 17u WWBA title. If they continue to buy into the team-first approach and tune out the outside noise, it could be deja vu from 2014 and 2017.

“There’s a lot of guys that come watch us, but more importantly we need to play for the team to get where we need to be to get those rings,” Johnson said.
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