By Dana Harding
Big games typically bring out performances to match.
Such was the case for Ozark’s Forrest Barnes.
The junior right-hander threw an absolute gem Tuesday afternoon, as Ozark downed COC Large rival Webb City 5-1.
Barnes displayed solid control with a four-pitch array that kept Webb City’s lineup off-balance throughout the game. After allowing a first-inning run, Barnes settled into a groove and worked efficiently and effectively..
“I was really getting ahead with the fastball,” Barnes said. “Started throwing my two-seam a little bit, and I think that helped. I felt really comfortable throwing my curve ball, and my changeup got some easy ground balls. I got a bunch of help from my defense, and it was just a great day.”
Ozark head coach Mike Essick was both pleased and relieved to finally see his junior hurler performing well on the mound. Barnes’ line included 12 strikeouts, three hits and a lone walk.
“Tonight, Forrest got ahead of hitters, and he had a lot of things working for him,” Essick said. “He did a good job setting up the next pitch and then, being able to put guys away when you get them 0-2 and 1-2. That’s the best he’s thrown this year.”
After Webb City leadoff hitter Will Larson reached on a dropped third strike, Channing Mickey drove him in with a two-out single up the middle.
Ozark immediately answered in the bottom half with some unconventional success of its own.
Chuck Hill drove a ball up the middle to score leadoff hitter Parker Hanks, who reached base after being hit by the second pitch of the game from Webb City junior Tyler Martin.
Martin, a hard-throwing lefty, posed a significant challenge to the Tiger lineup. The Nebraska commit had thrown a no-hitter and a total of nine scoreless innings leading up to Tuesday’s matchup.
Following its first-inning run to tie the game, Ozark capitalized on another big opportunity in the third.
With Noah Suiter and Noah Tucker both in scoring position, Barnes came up to bat looking to help his own cause.
A two-out single plated both runners, giving Ozark a 4-1 cushion and Barnes a bit of breathing room.
Essick pointed to the inning as a big confidence boost for his team and for his pitcher.
“That’s always great about high school baseball — when the pitcher gets to pitch and hit,” Essick said. “You don’t get to see that any more, and he got to step in there, get a hit and get two RBIs.”
The Tigers picked up an insurance run late in the sixth inning, when Suiter drove in Curt Gracey from third.
“Any time you can come in and get eight hits off [Martin], you’ve obviously done well,” Essick said. “We didn’t dominate, but you’re not going to. Just like they didn’t dominate Forrest. That’s baseball. We’ve ran into some rough luck and haven’t finished ball games, so it was good to see him finish the game himself and us get him a cushion where he could relax and throw, and we made plays.”
Martin tallied six strikeouts, six hits and one walk on the afternoon.
Webb City head coach Garry Highfill lamented his team’s miscues that allowed Ozark to take advantage of key scoring opportunities during the game.
“I felt like we had a good shot coming down,” Highfill said. “I knew [Martin] would give us a chance to win the game, just like [Barnes] would give them a chance to win the game. I told our guys coming down we were going to have to play good defense, and we didn’t do that very well today.”
After a quick turnaround, Webb City (8-2) is back in action Tuesday at Colgan. Ozark (5-3) plays Springdale Har-Ber Saturday at U.S. Baseball Park.
Varsity Final: Ozark – 5, Webb City – 1
Webb City 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 1
Ozark 1 0 2 1 0 1 x — 5
Hits: Webb City – 3, Ozark – 9
Errors: Webb City – 3, Ozark – 2
LOB: Webb City – 5, Ozark – 8