Jace Barker inherited a North Platte First Nationals juniors squad that went 28-17 a year ago, and has improved upon that in his first season at the helm.
Barker, a former First Nationals player has injected this year’s juniors with a daily dose of hard work, optimism and sheer confidence.
The result has been a 36-7 record and the opportunity for North Platte to host the Cornhusker League title game on Sunday at Bill Wood Field. The matchup pits North Platte, winners of the western portion of the Cornhusker League and Lincoln East Carpetland (26-10), representing the east.
"I had pretty high expectations for our kids entering this season and I’m proud of them for not getting comfortable," Barker said. "They’ve continued to strive to get better and so far it’s been a blast. We hardly take a day off and it’s paid off in full for us in our schedule, our record and especially in our game. Even when we’re losing, our kids never give up. Every game is a dogfight."
The juniors’ small-ball concept on offense, stingy defense and limited errors have been factors to their consistent regular season. North Platte outscored opponents 341-132, losing consecutive games just once all season.
But they’re far from done.
After a couple of postponements due to weather and field conditions, the Cornhusker League title game brings a tough opponent to North Platte.
Lincoln East features a lineup full of sluggers, but that’s something Barker and the First Nationals welcome with optimism and confidence.
"They’re big boys with some strength," Barker said. "They rely on the long ball and want to get into a slugfest. We’re coming in to play defense. If we pitch well, they’ll make (mistakes). It’s going to work out for us that way. We don’t want to get into a slugfest with them, even though our kids can hit just as well, if not better."
As the First Nationals continue to prepare for the title game, Barker admits he and his team has something to prove.
"Winning this game would mean a lot to us and a lot to the town," Barker said. "We want to make North Platte proud and show that we can play ball out west, and that we’re here to stay."
NP juniors sweep Laramie on Friday
LARAMIE, Wyo. — The North Platte First Nationals juniors wrapped up the regular season with a pair of road wins on Friday, defeating Laramie, Wyoming, 11-7 and 17-7.
Trailing 6-4 after six innings, North Platte (36-7) stormed back in the first game, scoring seven runs in the top of the seventh.
Derrick Kuhlmann led the way offensively for North Platte, going 3-for-4 with an inside-the-park home run, two runs scored and five RBIs.
Carter Kelley pitched five innings for the First Nationals, allowing one earned run on three hits, walked none and struck out six.
North Platte outhit Laramie 18 to 6, but committed four errors compared to one from Laramie.
The bats stayed hot for North Platte in the second game as they cranked out 17 runs on 12 hits, scoring in all five innings of the run-rule shortened game.
Kuhlmann again was the offensive standout, going 4-of-5 — including two doubles and a triple — with three runs scored and four RBIs, giving him nine on the day.
Trey Barker pitched three innings and Nathan Moats two, combining to allow seven runs on six hits, walk four and strike out three.
North Platte plays in the Cornhusker League title game against Lincoln East Carpetland on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Bill Wood Field in North Platte.