Jace Barker grew up around the North Platte First Nationals baseball program and is certainly no stranger to Bill Wood Field.
Saturday, however, was a little different.
After a decorated career as a player for the First Nationals, the 2016 North Platte High School grad made his home debut as new head coach of the juniors, splitting a doubleheader with Columbus, winning the first game 17-8, then falling 6-1 in the second game. The split moves North Platte’s record to 4-1 on the season after winning their first three games last weekend in Alliance.
Barker admitted to having butterflies coaching his first game at a venue he’s spent countless hours at throughout his life.
"Honestly, I was nervous coaching the game, so the first home game I think does bring jitters," he said. "It’s Bill Wood Field, it’s is a great stadium and we have great fans."
Barker’s team — some playing at Bill Wood for the first time — came out looking a little anxious as well.
After winning their first three games by a combined score of 38 to 5, the First Nationals quickly fell behind Columbus 5-0 in the first inning Saturday after allowing four hits and committing three errors.
"We knew that 5-0 deficit was self-inflicted and knew that if we got back to our game, good things would happen," Barker said.
North Platte chipped away, getting two runs in the second and third innings, trimming the Columbus lead to 5-4, but Columbus put up a three-spot in the bottom of the third to go up 8-4.
Things flipped in North Platte’s favor in the top of the fourth — playing as the away team in game one — as they scored four runs to tie the game 8-8.
Jeremiah Seamann scored the first run of the fourth, scoring from third on a throw from the Columbus catcher to second. Derrick Kuhlmann then scored on a throwing error, narrowing the Columbus lead to 8-6. Tate Janas continued the scoring, crossing the plate on a passed ball to bring North Platte within one.
The game-changing moment came after Carsen Johnson was picked off at third base for the second out, giving Columbus a chance to escape the inning with the lead.
Cody Wright had other ideas, blasting a game-tying, two-out RBI double to get North Platte even at 8-8.
The First Nationals proceeded to take the lead for good in the fifth on a Seamann RBI double, scoring Wright and never looked back. North Platte plated three total in the fifth and six in the sixth, also holding Columbus scoreless after the third inning, ending the game in the sixth via run rule.
"These kids are resilient," Barker said. "That was our first time being down this year, so the way they came back really showed maturity."
Will Coe started and pitched three innings for North Platte, allowing eight runs — only one of which was earned — on four hits, while walking one and striking out three.
Cole Wright pitched the final three innings, giving up no earned runs on two hits, walking three and striking out two.
Four Columbus pitchers combined to allow 17 runs — 13 earned — and 15 hits.
Wright went 2-for-3 with a walk from the plate and had a team-high three RBI, Seamann went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI, Bryce Butterfield was 3-for-4 with a walk and two RBI, Janas was 3-for-5 with three runs scored and an RBI and Cole Wright was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
North Platte committed six errors and Columbus three.
"We had some uncharacteristic errors (today), but we really didn’t practice all week because of the weather," Barker said. "We need to get into the grind, practice every day and we’ll be better."
In the second game, Columbus pitcher Caleb Van Dyke threw a gem, going six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, walking two and striking out six.
North Platte threatened in the bottom of the seventh against Columbus reliever Cody Zrust, but a Tyler Tobey pop-out ended the game.
"I’ll give it to (Van Dyke), he pitched well, but I still wish we would have done better," Barker said. "He was probably the best pitcher we’ve seen so far and had a good curveball, which you could tell had us fooled. We still put the bat on the ball, but had some unfortunate calls and some self-inflicted errors and we take responsibility for that."
The Juniors are back home on Sunday with a doubleheader against Sidney at 4 and 6:30 p.m.
COLUMBUS — The North Platte seniors opened their season with a doubleheader split with Columbus.
Columbus won the first game 10-2 and North Platte won the second game 6-4.
North Platte plays next on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Kearney.