06/09/12 — All-Area Baseball: Warriors' Barnett cops Player of the Year honors

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All-Area Baseball: Warriors' Barnett cops Player of the Year honors

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 9, 2012 11:12 PM

A much-needed growth spurt after his junior year transformed clumsiness into coordination, which, in turn, boosted Hunter Barnett's confidence on the baseball diamond.

His self-belief grew during the summer.

Barnett soaked up hitting and pitching instructions like a sponge from Mount Olive coaches Rob Watt and Jason Sherrer. He took that knowledge into fall workouts and got another shot of self-assurance from Eastern Wayne teammate -- and good friend -- Jake May.

Those long talks paid dividends.

A self-driven competitor at the plate and in the outfield, Barnett claimed the No. 2 slot in the Warriors' pitching rotation. He finally grew into the all-around player head coach Jabo Fulghum anticipated. Due to his efforts this spring, Barnett has been selected as the 2012 News-Argus All-Area Baseball Player-of-the-Year.

"Hunter has a sincere passion for the game of baseball," Fulghum said. I believe that he has not tapped into his full potential yet. His desire and athleticism will carry him as far as he wants to go."

Barnett flourished in all aspects of the game -- hitting, defense and pitching. The Mount Olive College signee batted .395 with nine RBI and one home run, and eight stolen bases.

He played near flawless while patrolling center field.

Although a battle with leukemia sidelined May, he never stopped volunteering information to Barnett about how to approach batters and keep them guessing in the batter's box.

Improvement in Barnett's arm velocity turned his fastball into a consistent out pitch. His curveball started to bite and he developed a change-up that he used on occasion. The right-hander fashioned an 8-2 record, 1.73 earned run average (ERA) and fanned 83 opposing batters in 64.7 innings of work.

"Jake and I worked on my arm strength and since he could see batters from a different point of view, he talked with me about what could keep them off balance," said Barnett, who will participate in the East-West All-Star game this week.

"I finally got my coordination, got a lot bigger and stronger in the weight room and I guess that carried over into the season.

Barnett helped Eastern Wayne (16-8 overall) secure its fourth Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference championship in the past five years, reach the ECC tournament finals and advance to the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

He credited his success to Watt, Sherrer, May and teammate Josh Dixon, who did a tremendous job of filling May's spot behind the plate.

"At the beginning of the season, I really didn't know what to expect (from Josh)," Barnett said. "He stepped it up and overall I think he did a pretty good job. I just enjoyed being with the boys every day, playing (the season) for Kevin (Wise) and Jake."