By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WILLARD — The April 9 Central Ozark Conference baseball game had been marked on many Nixa (10-1) and Willard (11-3) fans’ calendars for quite some time.
After all, it pitted two Class 5 powerhouses against each other.
Like prize fighters, the tilt went hit by hit, blow by blow.
But, after the Eagles plated three runs in the 14th inning, busting open the 3-3 tie, Nixa remained standing after the 6-5 come-from-behind win at Willard High School.
“I have coached for 20 years and never had a 14-inning game,” Nixa head coach Jason Daughtery said. “It is a long one. It is mentally exhausting.”
Daughtery had to toe a narrow line throughout the night, as he worked his magic in monitoring his three pitchers’ workloads.
Starter and University of Arkansas commit Isaac Mitchell hurled 6 1/3 innings — giving up a solo home run to Willard leadoff hitter, Ethan Thompson.
In the seventh inning, Mitchell gave way to senior Jake Uber — who surrendered a two-run home run to Cole Biellier with two strikes and two outs.
“It was a war of attrition. When we gave up the two-run shot in the seventh, everyone’s heart just sank,” Daughtery said. “But, Jake Uber went in there and kept battling. He hung one. We hung in there.”
Uber settled in and didn’t allow another hit until the 11th.
In the 14th, Uber was pulled for Caleb Crockett — who gave up a two-run double to Noah Wooldridge, to bring Willard within one run at 6-5.
For Daughtery, there isn’t a simplistic formula for managing relief pitchers for seven-plus innings of work.
“It is tough because we have to face Carthage Thursday,” Daughtery said. “I would like to have something going in there, but at the same time, you have to win the game in front of you. We will worry about Thursday on Thursday. It had been a lot worse if I spent all my pitching and we lost. But getting the win, it’s huge.”
For Nixa, its lone loss came at the hands of the Glendale Falcons a few weeks back — a 1-0 loss at Glendale against Falcons senior hurler and University of Missouri signee Ty Wilmsmeyer.
But, Daughtery has been waiting for an offensive production like this, and the win comments on the offense’s evolution in this, especially since his Eagles had to claw their way back into contention twice.
“Our offense was down one game. Our offense hasn’t been bad,” Daughtery said. “The game before that, at Carl Junction, we didn’t hit fantastic, and then Glendale — so maybe a two-game lull. Our hitting has been fine, (but) maybe a few guys need to get going.”
Kinson Michel smashed a two-run double in the sixth inning to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
Michel came up big once more as his two-run homer in the top of the 14th inning extended the Eagles lead to 6-3.
“I was pretty disappointed. I kept popping up,” Michel said of his home run at-bat. “He threw me first pitch curveball, and he came in with that next fastball and I knew I had to turn on it. It felt good, and I am just happy it left.”
And turn on it Michel did, as the moonshot cleared the left-field wall.
Simply put for Michel, the win against a top program in the Ozarks looks to galvanize his team even further.
“We needed this. We played some good teams throughout, but this is by far one of the best teams we have played,” Michel said. “I didn’t know it was going to be 14 innings. That’s kind of a drag.”
As for Mitchell, the southpaw was dominant, allowing one run on two hits in his 6 1/3.
Daughtery said it was just another day at the office for his sophomore phenom.
“They hit a leadoff homer. After that, they didn’t have much action, really. We had more guys on the bases than they did,” Daughtery said. “We left a lot of guys on. Seemed like when they had guys on, they scored them. We had guys on, we didn’t. That’s the way it goes. It says we are pretty resilient.”
Uber took the win for the Eagles while Grant Harris took the loss.