Hunter takes on ace's role at Missouri Western
To go from thinking you won't play at the next level coming out of high school, to being the top pitching prospect on your college team takes a lot of mental toughness and perseverance.
Luckily for Barlow-alum Nate Hunter, he has both of those things in spades.
"I've always seen myself as the underdog," Hunter said. "I'm always planning on people to count me out. But that doesn't change my approach — which is to do whatever it takes to win."
While that mentality has been present throughout Hunter's athletic career, it has become even more apparent over the last four years.
It all started in 2014 during Hunter's senior year of basketball when Barlow was hosting Central Catholic on the Bruins senior night. Hunter went up for a rebound and landed awkwardly in a way that put all of his weight on his right leg.
As he limped off the court, he knew that something bad had happened.
"It was brutal. I will never forget it," Hunter said. "Everything just went numb. I had a really bad feeling about it."
His suspicions were confirmed a few days later when Hunter found out he tore his ACL, meaning that he had to miss the entire 2014 baseball season.
"Right then and there, I thought my baseball career was over," Hunter said.
But he was not ready to call it quits on his first love just yet. Over the summer of 2014, Hunter called Mt. Hood head coach Bryan Donahue to see if he could walk-on to try and earn a spot on the Saints squad.
"Nate had reached out to me and we met in my office over the summer," Donahue said. "He told where he was at in the recovery process and after our conversation, we were both like 'let's do this' and it just went from there."
Even with the injury occuring in February of 2014, Hunter was cleared to resume all baseball activities once fall ball came around. Once the 2015 regular season approached, Donahue realized that he found an unexpected gem.
"After a couple of outings, we knew he was going to be a starter," Donahue said. "He was unbelievably consistent for us."
In his first season at Mt. Hood, Hunter had a record of 5-2 and 1.85 earned-run average. He led the team with five complete games on the year and helped the Saints reach the NWAC title game.
Hunter wasn't as successful in his second season with the Saints in 2016, but still led the team in strikeouts (41) and games started (11), which caused Missouri Western State to come calling.
Mt. Hood had sent four of their guys from the 2015 team off to Missouri Western State University, a Division II school in Saint Joseph, to extend their college careers (Nick Gawley, Kody Matthews, Chase Wiger and Evan Jones). It was Wiger, however, who was one of the convincing factors in Hunter making the move to the midwest for the remainder of his college career.
"I was staying in touch with some of my old teammates over there, but Wiser was the one the told me that I needed to go to (Missouri Western State)," Hunter said. "It's definitely a little bit different out in the midwest and being a long ways from home. But I love it out here."
In his first season with the Griffons, Hunter was one of the league leaders in several categories. He was second in the league in ERA (2.52), third in wins (8) and sixth in innings pitched (96.1).
It was his final outing of the 2017 season in the NCAA Central Regional where people started to take notice of Hunter.
After eight innings of work against Central Oklahoma, Hunter had given up just one run and had retired 16 straight batters between the third inning and the eighth inning. Even though he ended up taking the loss, Hunter had caught the eye of several scouts in attendance.
"There was a Phillies scout and a Cardinals scout that talked to my coach after the game," Hunter said. "They said if I continued to make strides, that I could maybe be drafted in the late rounds next summer. I honestly never thought that was remotely possible."
Hunter has already racked up six wins so far in the early stages of this season. He hopes to be selected in the 2018 MLB Draft this summer, but as for right now, he is content with where he is in his baseball career.
"I'm taking everything in stride right now and just having fun throwing a baseball," Hunter said. "My only goal was to keep playing past high school, so honestly I'm just grateful to be in the position that I'm in right now."
Look for our 2018 Baseball & Softball Prep Guide inside today's edition.