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‘Bulldog’ Barnes helps Middletown baseball take 2A West regional title

From the moment his day begins, Hunter Barnes radiates energy.

On Wednesday morning, the Middletown High senior said he “woke up like a bulldog.” Then, he went out later that afternoon and pitched like one for the Knights’ baseball team.

Barnes tossed a complete game in Wednesday’s Class 2A West Region I championship game, allowing just one late run on four hits, striking out seven and walking one, as Middletown claimed its first regional title since 2019 with a 4-1 victory over Century in a game moved to Frederick Community College due to its water-logged home field.

The Knights (16-5) will likely be a top four seed in Class 2A and host a state quarterfinal at 4 p.m. Friday against an opponent to be determined. The game could be back at FCC depending on the state of Middletown’s field.

“We are starting to play some of our better baseball at the end [of the season],” Knights coach Andy Baker said. “We always knew we had the talent. We seem to be pulling all of the pieces together. Guys are ready to go. Guys are engaged. They are just locked in all of the time. Everyone is doing their job.”

Nobody more so than Barnes, who is always eager to do something baseball related. Since there was no school Tuesday, he climbed out of bed and sent a text message to his teammates: “Let’s go hit.”

So, a bunch of them went to the batting cage together to make sure they were ready to go for Wednesday’s 4 p.m. game.

On the mound, Barnes is a bundle of energy and motion.

“I quick pitch to get in the batter’s head,” he said. “I shake my head up there. I look in different directions, just to see what the batter is doing. Keep him off guard.”

It often works.

“That’s why we want to play [defense] behind him. That’s why we want to score runs for him,” said senior center field Fredy Diaz, whose RBI triple ignited a four-run third inning for Middletown. “He is doing it for us. We are going to do it for him.”

Barnes said he didn’t feel much pressure heading into Wednesday’s start, only a few jitters right before the game.

He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, including four strikeouts, and didn’t allow a hit until there was one out in the fourth inning.

After running into some trouble in the seventh inning, allowing base hits to three of the first four batters he faced, which produced Century’s only run, Barnes buckled down and struck out the final two.

He got Century’s Ben Welsh looking on a change-up to end the game.

“He has that persona when he is on the mound that he is not going to let somebody beat him,” Baker said of Barnes. “What makes him so good is, if he walks somebody, he’ll come back to the dugout and say, ‘No more walks. I promise you. I will not walk anyone else.’

“That’s just who he is. And when you can throw four pitches for a strike [fastball, curveball, slider, change-up], that helps.”

It’s unclear if the Knights will need Barnes to pitch again this season. Senior teammates Tyler Haupt and Keller Routzahn have been among the best pitchers in Frederick County all season.

But, if they do, Barnes looks forward to getting the chance.

“Whenever Coach Baker wants to put me on that mound,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

NOTES: Barnes helped himself in the third inning with a single to left-center field that scored Diaz from third. Senior Brett Lucas came up three batters later and knocked a two-out single to left that scored a pair of runs for the Knights.