The 14-under North Platte Nitro. Front row: Garett Schledewitz, Dylan Petersen, Kylan Rhodes, Jace Barker, Kobe Lawrence, Jayden Kruse. Back row: Coach Brett Joneson, Kevin Hancock, Marcus Miller, Brenden Folk, Bryce Byrn, Cole Joneson, Marcus Silos, Coach Randy Barker, Coach Ty Barker.
The 14-under North Platte Nitro won a pair of games at the Babe Ruth League Midwest Plains regional tournament in Lamar, Colo.
"It was a good experience for the boys," said Nitro coach Randy Barker. "It's kind of sad that it's our last tournament together. We did good but we could have done better. In the games we won, we played well."
The Nitro, who won the Babe Ruth state championship, opened Regionals on Aug. 4 with a 6-1 loss to Park Hill, Mo.
"We were kind of a little sluggish," Barker said. "Kevin Hancock pitched well but we had three errors, which cost us four or five runs."
On Aug. 5, the Nitro bounced back to beat the host team, Lamar, Colo., 18-6. Pinch hitter Garrett Schledewitz gave the Nitro a big spark with a two RBI double. Schledewitz also came up big in a similar situation in the state championship game against Scottsbluff in the state tournament. Jace Barker picked up the win for North Platte.
On Aug. 6, North Platte edged out Fairfield, Iowa, 10-9. The Nitro hit the ball well again and Bryce Byrn came on for starting pitcher Marcus Miller to help North Platte stay alive. Byrn's offspeed pitching slowed down Fairfield just enough for the Nitro to hang on.
"We had 11 hits so we hit really well," said Barker. Defensively, we had three errors but we had enough offense to overcome that."
On Aug. 7, the Nitro were eliminated with a 6-2 loss to Bismarck, N.D. Hancock took the hill for his second start of the tournament and picked up the loss.
"We had trouble hitting the ball," Barker said. "We just couldn't find a gap."
Nitro enjoys state championship in final year
In their last year before heading into Legion Baseball, the 14-under North Platte Nitro baseball team is going out in style. The won the Babe Ruth League state tournament and qualified for this week's regional tournament.
Nitro coach Randy Barker, who has coached the group since 2007, said it has been a thrill to see his players have a big season in their last season together.
"I think it's great because it's their last season before Legion ball," said Barker. "I am very proud of what they've done."
On their way to a successful season, the 14-under Nitro have developed consistency on defense and that approach to the game that is rare at that age, Barker says.
That consistency comes from playing six years together and practicing for the last seven months.
"They've worked hard," Barker said. "They've shown a lot of hard work and dedication. Mentally and defensively, they're really sound and that comes from practice."
In the Babe Ruth state tournament, the Nitro went 3-0, beating Scottsbluff twice and Hastings once.
They started strong against Scottsbluff with a 9-2 victory. Kevin Hancock got the victory on the mound.
"The first game against Scottsbluff was excellent," said Barker. "I have no complaints about how we played. Defensively, we were real sound and we pitched well."
In the following game against Hastings, North Platte got a strong pitching performance from Marcus Miller, who pitched six innings before Jace Barker finished things in the seventh and closed out the 8-1 victory.
In the championship round against Scottsbluff, the Nitro fell behind 6-1 but came back to win 11-7 to earn the title.
"We were down 6-1 but the kids didn't give up," Barker said.
Barker has three assistants on the Nitro -- his son Ty, Brett Joneson and Mark Silos.
Ty Barker, a 2010 graduate of North Platte High School, helped lead the North Platte First National Bank Seniors to state tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009. he not only uses his knowledge of the game to help teach the Nitro players but he also tries to pick up their intensity with the fiery passion for which he was known as a Legion player.
"Ty's been awesome," said Randy. "It's been great to spend time with him on this team. He was an excellent Legion player and just being around him has made me a better coach. He puts up with a lot less crap than I do."
Joneson has a good eye for detail and helps Barker devise the Nitro's strategy during the games. Silos is excellent at handling the bench, said Barker.
After playing with the Nitro, the players join the North Platte Legion Baseball program.
With eight players from the North Platte Juniors moving up to play for the Seniors next year, this year's Nitro team will comprise the majority of the Juniors team in 2013.
"They'll be successful," Barker said. "From what I've heard, a lot of the Juniors are moving up so these guys are going to be starting right away. They might lack size but that's all they lack. A few of them need to mature (physically). But they'll have good coaching up there. I talked to the pitching coach (Jason Pflughaupt) and he's excited to work with them."
As for Randy Barker, he is prepared to start over from square one again. His son Treyce Barker will be nine next year and just like with Jace, he will coach him through little league until he is ready for Legion ball.