Anthony Barnette tossed eight innings of three-hit ball Tuesday as the Missoula Osprey blanked the Idaho Falls Chukars, 4-0, in the opener of the best-of-3 Pioneer League Championship Series.
Barnette (1-0) retired the first 17 batters before yielding two-out singles to O.D. Gonzalez and Brett Bigler in the sixth. The 22-year-old right-hander, who struck out six without issuing a walk, stranded a runner at third in the sixth and seventh before working a perfect eighth.
"(The Chukars) have a lot of free swingers," Barnette said. "So I was trying to pound them in with a fastball early in the count, use my changeup and then get them out with my slider. That was our game plan going in, and I was able to execute it.
"I also give a lot of credit to my defense. They were playing their hearts out. When you see that, it makes you want to pitch even better."
Barnette, who went 6-4 with a 3.89 ERA during the regular season, said his top performance had been an 11-strikeout win over Orem on July 12.
But not anymore.
"This was by far my best game because of the magnitude," he said. "To get the first game in a three-game series is huge. It puts the pressure on them because we only need one more win to win the title."
Barnette was locked in a duel for much of the game with Idaho Falls starter Rowdy Hardy (0-1), who gave up two runs -- both unearned -- on three hits over seven innings. Hardy, who fanned three, was victimized by three of the Chukars' four errors.
"He was doing a real good job against our hitters," Barnette said. "When you are competing against a guy throwing well, it really pushes you to do better and pumps you up. I think that's especially true in a playoff game."
Daniel Stange pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the Osprey, who travel to McDermott Field for Game 2 at 9:15 p.m. ET on Thursday in what may be the final contest at the 66-year-old stadium. The Chukars will move into newly renovated Melaleuca Field next season.
Missoula jumped in front for good in the second, when Tyler Jones led off with a bunt single, took second on Hardy's throwing error and stole third before scoring on Sean Smith's groundout.
John Hester tripled and came home on catcher Matthew Morizio's errant pickoff attempt in the fifth and Daniel Perales delivered a two-run double in the eighth.
Joseph Dickerson doubled leading off the seventh for Idaho Falls' only extra-base hit.