By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nixa, Mo. — Friday’s matchup between Nixa and Bolivar had everything you’d expect from an early-season heavyweight clash.
Two undefeated records, two premier pitchers and two teams looking to make a statement.
A clutch hit from Drue Lawrence and a dominant performance in the circle from Morgan Jones helped propel the Lady Eagles to a 7-4 victory.
Nursing a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third, Lawrence slapped a single up the middle to drive in Payton Ward and Jaden LaBarge.
The senior center fielder went 3-for-4 at the plate and found herself dialed in on Bolivar’s hard-throwing Katie Brooks.
“I was really nervous,” Lawrence said. “My first hit of the game was a good one, so it just triggered me to be mentally prepared. I had two outs on me, so I just choked up on the bat, put it together and got a base hit. I was just really excited I could get a big hit off a really good pitcher.”
Brooks, known for plenty of velocity and an arsenal of pitches, struggled a bit in the early innings with movement across the plate.
Nixa rang up 12 hits on the afternoon and found repeated success early in the count. Head coach Matt Walker discussed his team’s approach with Bolivar’s ace, a Florida State commit.
“[Brooks] throws hard, and she’s a good pitcher,” Walker said. “Our approach was to swing early and often; to try and get to her before she can throw all her junk. She’s got five or six pitches, and we didn’t want to see them all.”
Not to be outdone in the circle, Morgan Jones again showed what she’s capable of with a lead on the scoreboard.
While the senior isn’t known for overpowering velocity, Jones does have plenty of experience, control and movement throughout the zone.
“I played travel ball, and I played up in the gold level,” Jones said. “That really helped mentally prepare me for hot lineups, because I was throwing against them all summer. Coming into school ball, I have that mindset of spin the ball, get them to hit a ground ball or pop-up and I trust my defense to make the outs.”
Mitchell praised his senior ace for executing her game plan and staying poised in the circle.
“Morgan pitched very well today,” Mitchell said. “Kind of stayed away and then came in for some looks, sometimes, just to keep them off-balance. She spun it well, pounded the outside half and kept them off-balance with the change-up.”
Jones constant mix was enough to keep Bolivar’s young, but potent lineup off balance for most of the game. Liberator head coach Brian Thompson knew his squad would be challenged.
“Morgan’s a good pitcher, and she hits her spots,” Thompson said. “I knew she was going to live outside — I knew it, I knew it, I knew it — and we worked on it but, I don’t know. We’re not taking care of the outside pitch and hitting it to right field like we should be.”
After falling behind 5-1, Bolivar rallied to plate three runs in the fifth inning. Back-to-back singles from Brooks and Avery McClure drove in Paige Severns, Shae Smith and Emme Hall.
Unfortunately for the Liberators, Nixa would score another pair of runs in the bottom half to answer the rally when Kat Mitchell’s two-run single scored Lawrence and Maddie Ward.
Five errors on the afternoon and an inability to make the key, rally-killing outs proved to be too much for Bolivar to overcome. Despite the loss, Thompson welcomed the early-season test and was pleased with his team’s late rally.
“I’m not aggravated or mad, or anything like that,” Thompson said. “We just have a lot of things that we need to work on. This is not a bad loss … we were down 5-1 and got back in it 5-4. We just couldn’t close it.”
Next up for Nixa (2-0) is a home matchup on Tuesday, Sep. 4, against Willard. Bolivar (3-1) hosts Nevada that same day.
Varsity final: Nixa – 7, Bolivar – 4
Bolivar 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 — 4
Nixa 2 0 3 0 2 0 x — 7
Hits: Bolivar – 5, Nixa – 12
Errors: Bolivar – 5, Nixa – 2
LOB: Bolivar – 4, Nixa – 10
Morgan Jones (7.00 IP, 3K, 5H, 2BB)
Katie Brooks (6.00 IP, 7K, 12H, 1BB)
Time of game: 1:43