Queen of the K
Strikeout master Taryan Barrick named T-R Softball Player of the Year
ACKLEY — Three is an important number in softball.
There are three bases, three parts of the outfield, batters are listed in multiples of three. And, of course, three outs in an inning and three strikes per out.
No one in the state of Iowa was better at getting those all-important three strikes this season than AGWSR pitcher Taryan Barrick, the 2018 Times-Republican All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
Three might be Barrick’s lucky number, considering she had her best season on the mound in her third year as the main Cougar starting pitcher. She is only the third girl in the last five years to have at least 390 strikeouts in a season, finishing with 392.
She also pitched three-straight shutouts in the regional playoffs to get AGWSR back to the state playoffs for the fourth time in program history, and once there the Cougars made it three rounds deep before falling to Collins-Maxwell in the Class 1A championship game.
Even Barrick’s record finished in multiples of three, as she went 27-6 on the bump in 2018 to put her at 63 wins for her career.
While going through such an incredible, personal and school-record breaking year, Barrick said she wasn’t necessarily aware of just what she was doing as it unfolded in front of her.
“I don’t know my stats very well until afterwards and after the game we don’t know what we got until later, so it was kind of like ‘if we win, great, if we lose we learn from it,’ but we had a really good record and I was pretty happy for us,” she said. “I was kind of worried at the beginning of the season because we had a bunch of younger ones up, but they pulled together and we had good people who came out cheering and everyone was phenomenal throughout the season.”
AGWSR co-head coach Scott O’Brien said he’s always known Barrick was capable of great things, even way back when they started working together when Barrick lived in Hudson before moving to Ackley, but at the beginning of this season there was something different about her.
“I think there were some definite indications of it, the biggest thing that we noticed was her ability to command her riseball this year,” O’Brien said. “That resulted in her averaging basically two strikeouts an inning. That was a good indication that she was continuing to improve, that she was continuing to move forward.”
Barrick started the year with a no-hitter and 15 strikeouts against Hudson in the season opener, definitely a foreshadowing of what she would accomplish in her junior campaign.
She rolled through the first week of the season with five-straight wins, four of them shutouts, but the first hiccup of the year was in a 4-3 loss to Jesup. O’Brien said, though that was her first loss, that was one of the first times he noticed there was really something different in Barrick.
“Early in the season we went over to Jesup and she had eight walks. She throws a one- or two-hitter, with eight walks, but we only gave up four runs,” he said. “To me that was an indication that she was getting better at working through those games when things are off.”
The Cougars would actually go through their worst stretch of the season starting with the Jesup game, losing three out of four before the second day of the North Fayette tournament where they would face Kee of Lansing, the top-ranked team in 1A.
Barrick would turn in one heck of a performance against the Kee Hawks, stifling their potent offense to just four hits and two runs while striking out 13.
“We were at that tournament and we weren’t doing so well, we were coming off the day before with two losses and we were sitting there thinking, ‘oh lets just have fun, they are No. 1 in the state, we’re gonna go for it,’ and we definitely went for it,” Barrick said of the Kee win. “That proved to us that we could do something at the end of the season and we definitely had that attitude going from the Kee game to the very last game against Collins-Maxwell.”
That truly was the turning point for AGWSR, as they would only lose four more games in the regular season, and only twice more with Barrick pitching.
“After that point on there wasn’t too many bad games,” O’Brien said. “When she beat Kee, when she beat some of these other teams, when she shut out BCLUW, she went eight games in a row without giving up a run. You could see the potential was there, it was just ‘ok, are you going to find the consistency now to do it?’ And she did.”
Barrick’s mother, Sarah Steninger, said even while they were racking up all the wins it was still hard to fully comprehend just what her daughter was accomplishing. That was until arguably Barrick’s best career game, a 19-strikeout, two-hit shutout against East Marshall to win the NICL West Division.
“I am sure there were other times, but I don’t know when that happened. It was kind of the East Marshall game for the conference and the way she pitched that game,” Steninger said. “I knew going into that game that she was three strikeouts away from 300 on the season, and then at that point I was like, ‘wow, this was a great season.'”
In three years as a starter, Barrick has increased her strikeout rate exponentially. Her freshman year she finished with 191 K’s and a 15-7 record. Her sophomore year those numbers upped to 258 strikeouts and a 21-6 record. Then of course that increased once again in 2018, with six more wins and another 134 extra strikeouts.
“I give her credit because I think she matured more mentally this year than she did physically,” O’Brien said. “She had a riseball last year, but it was the mental growth this year that allowed her to relax more, to stay focused more and not let things bother her as much.”
Where Barrick said she felt the most growth was on the leadership side, because that’s not something that comes natural to her despite playing in a role that girls look up to.
“I have always been known as the silent person in the circle, I don’t really say much,” she said. “Freshman year was the year I didn’t have to say much because I had Abbie Young out there being the leader and when she left I definitely sat down with O’Brien a year later. He said ‘OK, we don’t have as many leaders now and you’re in the circle, they are looking up to you.’ I have been working on that so much, but they all know me as the silent one. My leadership has built a lot more, just not as big of leaps and bounds as it probably should be.”
Another mental part of the game Barrick had to deal with was overcoming nagging injuries. During her sophomore campaign she dealt with some shoulder issues, but while those didn’t pop up in 2018 she had an issue with her toe and foot for nearly the entire second half of the season.
“It’s funny, she is a physically elite athlete, not even thinking softball. She’s strong, she can jump, she is just very athletic. But it’s amazing, for someone as athletic and conditioned as she is, she just seems to always have some small thing that nags at her,” O’Brien said. “Whether it’s a toenail, something simple like a toenail, or anything else. She pitched those five shutouts in a row in five days on a foot that had to be heavily taped every day. It got better the last couple of weeks of the season, but that week we went into that Saturday tournament at Gilbertville and we finally said ‘you’re not pitching today, your foot is just too sore.'”
Barrick is a multi-sport athlete as well, helping lead the Cougars to the state basketball tournament as a starting post player last year and playing with the volleyball team as one of the lead hitters.
Balancing so many sports plus school work is no easy task, but it’s one Barrick said she’s comfortable with.
“Summer is the hardest part because I basically work on three sports,” she said. “Coming back into school I’ll be doing volleyball, softball and schoolwork soon, so I just have to manage my time and focus on what I’m going to do in this moment and what I do afterwards. Same thing with basketball, it always works out in my opinion. After practice is over I can cool down, do a little bit of homework, maybe I have open gym that night so I’ll go do that for a little bit, it just all varies on what happens that night or what I have going on that week in general.”
It takes dedication not just from Barrick but from her parents to build success as well, and Steninger said there have been many late nights on the road taking her from one practice to another.
“Many long nights and short weekends because she plays travel ball too. Weekends, spring and summer, fall we are gone a lot,” she said. “There’s a lot of time there and driving, she’s even qualified for a team down in Florida so we’ve gone down there and played. Just a lot of time and effort on our part to make sure we get our jobs done and make sure we get home to take her here and there.”
It has all paid off in a big way though after a year like Barrick just had, even pitching a near-perfect game in the state finals before falling to Collins-Maxwell with a run in the seventh. After losing in that way, O’Brien said he feels she is prepped and ready to come back even stronger for her senior season.
“I absolutely think that will motivate her, she already has gotten with me at our awards banquet saying ‘I have to go work on this, I’ve got to go work on that,’ so she’s already thinking about what she needs to do to get back in the gym or back on the mound and work on some things,” he said.
It might be hard to think Barrick could get much better after turning in one of the greatest pitching seasons in AGWSR softball history, but O’Brien said she has room yet to grow.
“It might seem hard to believe, but she is so physically talented that she’s still got — oh I don’t even want to predict — but she’s still got more in there,” he said. “She’s only now starting to come close to reaching her potential, there’s another 10, 15, 20 percent more that she could get better at and she wants to do it.”
Barrick agreed that she hasn’t yet reached her potential, or more that her potential might not have quite reached her.
“My ceiling keeps rising every year,” she said. “Freshman year I had to improve a lot, sophomore year I knew I’d be better than when I was a freshman but I knew I had to raise it a little more and the same thing with my junior year. My senior year I’m bumping up my ceiling a little higher because I have had higher goals to achieve every year.”
Tops on that list of accomplishments next year? Win the second-ever state softball title for the Cougars and become one of only a handful of Iowa softball players to strikeout 400 in a single season.
“We have the same team coming back. Same people, same starters, same lineup,” she said. “Nothing’s different, I know we can do it, I believe we can do it, I know we will get back there next year. Knowing we got so close last year, I know that’s urging me to get back there and I know it’s urging everyone else to get back up there, and we definitely can.”