By Matt Turer / @MattTurer
NIXA, Mo. – With just two days before districts, there was still plenty for Nixa to play for on Thursday.
Winners of 12 of 13 games, the Eagles needed a win over Willard to clinch a share of the COC-Large title. And they got it.
The Eagles used three consecutive doubles in the fifth and a Brett Hammit homer in the sixth to beat the Tigers 4-1.
“It’s great to be winning but at the same time, our district is brutal,” Nixa coach Jason Daugherty said. “We’ll see if we can get past our first opponent (West Plains). Whoever comes out of that tournament is a man.”
Kyle Ramey earned the win for Nixa after tossing 1.1 innings and exiting after the fifth. Ramey and Nixa pitchers combined to allow just five hits, striking out three. Isaac Mitchell closed out the seventh.
The game was tied 0-0 until the top of the fifth when Willard’s Ethan Thompson ripped a double to left that scored Reese Dawson from first.
“I think we’ll get to most pitchers sooner or later,” Daugherty said. “After a while, we did. Our pitchers did a great job the whole game. Good defense and good pitching.”
Both teams recorded just five hits apiece and both used four pitchers in the game.
“We pitched well, but we gave up way too many hits on 0-2, 1-2 on pitches over the plate,” Willard coach Scott McGee said. “We’ve got to do a better job there.”
ONE BIG INNING
Nixa’s three-run fifth proved all the Eagles would need. Hunter Crabtree started the rally by doubling to right with one out.
Steven Belcher followed Crabtree’s double with a ground-rule double, tying the game 1-1. Next, Joe Reid smacked a two-bagger to the wall in left that scored Belcher and put Nixa up a run. Devon Roach pinch ran for Nixa and worked his way to third, eventually scoring on a wild pitch that extended the Eagles lead to 3-1.
Brett Hammit went deep to left to open the sixth, cementing the 4-1 final.
A GREAT ESCAPE
After two quick outs in the fourth by Nixa starter Jake Uber, Willard loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a hit batter. Ramey replaced Uber and got Cole Biellier looking on a full count to end the threat.
“Our offense was putrid today,” McGee said. “We weren’t patient and took too many swings at bad pitches.
“When you’re starting five sophomores, it’s tough to get them ready to play every single game. Districts are about to start, the conference race is decided on our front, and this was just kind of a game to play.”
A NEARLY PERFECT START
Tiger pitchers were nearly unhittable into the fifth inning but took an unexpected route there.
Willard starter Tanner Norris was hit in the foot by a Payton Hannah liner to leadoff the bottom of the first and was removed from the game in favor of Matthew Eleiott. Hannah reached on the play.
Eleiott then tossed three perfect innings, striking out six and recording nine outs while facing just eight batters after picking off Hannah in the first.
“Eleiott was phenomenal,” McGee said. “This is his fourth straight really good outing. He’s reminding me of the way some guys threw down the stretch run for us the last couple times we went to the Final Four.”
Devin Custer replaced Eleiott in the fourth and retired the side, then retired the first batter of the fifth before Nixa’s three straight doubles.
Willard: The Tigers are scheduled to face the winner of Waynesville vs. Hillcrest in the Class 5 District 10 semifinals on May 14.
Nixa: The Eagles are scheduled to face West Plains in Round 1 of the Class 5 District 11 tournament on May 12.
WHS 0-0-0-0-1-0-0 — 1-5-1
NHS 0-0-0-0-3-1-0 — 4-5-0