Forty years or a week.
Does it really matter?
On that unchangeable continent known as Memory, the decades are swept away like so much dust off a windowsill and emotions revived of a special time.
For Joe Gilbert — and his 1980 Barnsdall High School baseball team - time might be able to dim some details but can’t tarnish the glory of a magic spring.
And, an even more magic team.
May 7, 1980 — the day Barnsdall mined gold.
The Panthers finally went toe-to-toe against destiny — represented that day by Ft. Cobb.
The two teams met on the diamond at Chandler High School, with the Class A state championship on the line.
Barnsdall had never brought home a state title — but all that changed on this day.
With super southpaw Barry Gott calling on his arsenal of phantom curveballs, Barnsdall knocked off Ft. Cobb, 2-1, to wrap up the glorious prize.
David Moles — who had gone hitless in his first three at-bats — ripped a single to drive home Brad Bell for the go-ahead run. Bell had led off with a clod-hopping double too hot for an infielder to knock down.
In the bottom of the seventh, Barnsdall outfielder Jerry Patrick ran down a fly ball 395 feet away from home plate — the distance to the wall measured 400 feet — to suck the spirit out of Ft. Cobb. Gott then stuck out the next batter to seal the crown.
Mission accomplished for a Barnsdall team that finished 28-6 — and lost only two of its final 26 games.
“We knew we were going to have a really good team,” Moles said during an interview a few years ago. “Everybody was anxious to get it started.”
Off the bus and into baseball
Gilbert has recalled at various times during the years how the diamond pursuits actually began the final night of the basketball season.
“They had a tremendous basketball team,” Gilbert said. “They got beat in the state semifinals, after three starters had fouled out, by two points.”
Following the long, disappointing ride home, the players who were going to play baseball got off the bus, got their baseball equipment and started practicing that same night.
Thus, in the dark of the moon the golden light of destiny began to glow.
So, who were these Panthers, these flinty warriors of fate?
The roll call goes 20 names deep: Kevin Anthony, Byron Aultz, Brad Bell, David Carson, Shawn Cornett, Joe Cole, Tim Fanning, Barry Gott, Bob Hatfield, Jim Hatfield, Buddy Holcomb, Cleve Javine, Randy McCullough, Dwayne Miller, Rick Miller, David Moles, Mark Moore, Jerry Patrick, Mike Parks and John Snead.
“The year before (1979) … we got beat out of regionals,” Jim Hatfield explained a few years ago. “From that point on, we said we were going to win it next year.”
But, the 1980 Panthers didn’t start out like a group on the verge of greatness.
They started out at 2-5 — suffering their fifth loss to Bartlesville Sooner High, 11-10, on March 31. Barnsdall had led, 7-0.
But, then the run — the Mother of all runs — began. During their remaining 27 games the Panthers would romp to a 26-1 record. They suffered their only loss during that stampeding streak to Sperry, 2-1 — in the championship game of the Oologah tournament, during which week Barnsdall played two tourneys simultaneously. Javine ripped a seventh-inning solo homer that saved Barnsdall from an ignominious shutout.
That loss — which snapped a 14-game winning streak — “woke us up,” Gilbert said.
Barnsdall wouldn’t lose again the rest of the season.
“These kids were all good competitors,” Gilbert said. “Number one, they were pretty fundamentally sound. I had brought those kids from little fellows all the way up. They were pretty tough to beat. They handled pressure real well.”
“We had a really tight team,” Moles said. “Coach Gilbert encouraged that. He tried to do stuff where all the team was involved.”
That included chasing a championship.
Romp through the regionals
After wrapping up the district pennant, Barnsdall plunged full force into the Class A regionals.
They opened up by clobbering Ketchum, 8-1, on the strength of a three-run homer by Mike Parks and a two-run two-bagger by Bell. Gott shone on the bump, snapping off seven strikeouts in five innings.
Next up, Barnsdall outlasted Welch, 8-4, with Bell on the mound.
Patrick’s two-out, three-run homer revved up the offense.
The regional championship game pitted Ketchum against Barnsdall.
The result was the same as in the regional quarterfinal — a seven-run Panthers win. This time the score was 7-0, with Gott hurling the complete-game gem, capped by 11 strikeouts. Moles mashed two homers — one for three runs — to zap Ketchum pitching.
Gott a little more than a lot
It’s doubtful that Panthers baseball — or most other area baseball programs — could boast in their history the kind of dominance that the senior Gott gave Barnsdall that spring.
During one skein, he didn’t allow an earned run in 37-straight innings. His numbers at the end of the regular season and district tourney included 79 innings, 126 strikeouts and a 9-3 record. During his final 49 innings of the regular season/district playoffs, he surrendered only three earned runs.
He would blitz through the regionals and state tournament with a 4-0 record — not including a three-hitter against Sedan (Kan.) in a tune-up game between the regionals and state. In those five post-regular season pitching appearances, Gott tagged on at least another 40 strikeouts — and didn’t give up an earned run in 20 innings.
“He had a lot of good breaking pitches,” Gilbert said. “He had about every breaking pitch you could ask for a high school player to have. He could throw them all at different angles. He had real good control. On a 3-and-2 count, you weren’t going to get a fastball from him. He could throw strikes with breaking balls as good as anybody.”
Rounding out Gilbert’s primary pitching staff were Bell and Parks.
When he wasn’t pitching, Gott would likely play in the outfield.
Gilbert’s primary defensive lineup started with Bob Hatfield at catcher. Fanning and Cole rounded out the catching rotation, with Fanning also getting several at-bats as a designated hitter.
Going around the horn, you had Moles at first base, Moore at second, Bell at shortstop and Javine at third.
When Bell pitched, Moore would slide over to short and Kevin Anthony would come in at second.
The outfield mix included Patrick (center), McCullough, Jimmy Hatfield, Gott (right, left), Aultz and others.
Getting it done at the plate
Bell’s legend as an offensive dynamo — he would go on to star at Oklahoma State in the early 1980s — extended beyond the Barnsdall city limits.
He also established himself as one of the greatest plate bangers in Bartlesville American Legion baseball history.
In the summer of 1981 he crushed 16 homers for the Doenges Ford Injuns — a team record that would hold up until 1996, and, as of 2019, remains the third-most in the program’s history.
Bell would capture All-State honors in three sports his senior year at Barnsdall — and this was back when Oklahoma had only three classes, so the competition for this recognition was much stiffer than today.
He also received the Jim Thorpe Award and Oklahoma Athlete of the Year, Gilbert noted.
But Bell — who batted in the three-hole — was just part of offensive equation for a nuclear Barnsdall offense.
Gilbert — displaying his acumen as a surveyor of baseball talent — had a little fun in setting the rest of Barnsdall’s version of Murderer’s Row.
At four-hole, Gilbert installed Moles.
“He could hit the high pitch,” Gilbert said. “If the pitcher got up in the zone, Moles could muscle it out. While he was batting, I could hear them (the other team) yell, ‘Keep it down!’”
That played into Gilbert’s tangled web, because batting in the five-hole was Javine — a low-ball blaster.
“He golfed that ball,” Gilbert said, with emphasis. “He could hit that low pitch.”
During a key regular season battled against Vinita — won by Barnsdall, 8-0 — Javine stroked a bases-loaded double.
Barnsdall’s power and offensive venom went up and down the lineup.
At the end of the regular season/district, Moore led the team in hitting (.380), followed by Moles (.333) and Gott (.322).
Bell would have been there near the top, but he had been limited during the year by a separated shoulder and had returned in time to provide dynamite in the postseason.
Moore crushed a two-run homer — with McCullough on board — in a 4-1 victory against Cleveland that pushed Barnsdall to 10 games above .500 (15-5).