Barnes gives Westside a spark


Well after the game ended, Westside's Gerald Barnes and assistant coach Lyle Burns sat together on a cart, dragging the infield.


Just two days after burying his wife of 31 years, Barnes returned Friday afternoon to the west Augusta field that bears his name.

After the Patriots defeated Hephzibah 14-0 in five innings, Westside assistant coach Wayne Jackson raked the third-base line. A husband and father of two young daughters, Jackson said he can't imagine what it's been like recently for Barnes, the all-time winningest high school baseball coach in Georgia.

"I can't even fathom it," Jackson said.

It took a few days for senior catcher Austin Sanders to understand as well. He received a text message late Saturday with the sorrowful news.

A teacher and one of her husband's biggest supporters, Sissy Barnes died earlier in the night, 4 1/2 years after suffering a seizure. In September 2005, she underwent two brain surgeries -- the first to remove a baseball-size benign tumor -- and spent the following years trying to battle back.

"It took awhile for it to hit me, until the funeral. Then I saw coach Barnes, and it hit me," Sanders said. "She suffered for so long."

Barnes missed his first game of the year Monday when his team defeated Midland Valley. He decided not to miss another, though he admitted he coached with a heavy heart.

"I've got a good group of guys, and I enjoy being around them," Barnes said. "But I enjoyed being around my wife, too."

Barnes said his wife showed amazing courage throughout her ordeal. The hardest thing to deal with now is the finality of not having her around, he said.

"It was a little bit unexpected at the time it happened," he said. "But we knew eventually there was a chance. Of course, all of us can go at any day."

Westside senior left-hander Christian Bragg said his team has extra motivation to play well the rest of the year. Against the Rebels (6-11), he struck out eight and allowed just two hits.

"We want to play our hearts out and win out for him," Bragg said. "He's always been there for us."

Westside (11-3) scored all of its runs in the first three innings. Steven Gaberial led the Patriots' 13-hit effort with a 3 for 3 performance at the plate, while Sanders, Ethan Gaddy, Henry Rowland and Joe Boatwright each collected two hits.

Jackson said the team received a spark when Barnes drove up to the field and walked into the dugout.

"You could see the excitement in their eyes," Jackson said. "He's such an inspiration to them and coach Burns and myself. We're just glad to see him back."



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