By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — It was about as ugly a start as the Nixa Eagles (23-2) could have produced.
Two errors and one run allowed in the first inning to the Kickapoo Chiefs (20-11) was not the narrative the Eagles had hoped to pen.
And after falling behind 4-0 one inning later, the mindset never wavered, as the Eagles outscored the Chiefs 5-0 en route to the 5-4 come-from-behind win in eight innings at Monday’s Class 5 District 10 semifinals at Parkview High School.
Senior Kinson Michel delivered the solo home run for the Eagles’ first hit in the bottom of the fifth after Nixa plated their initial run via a wild pitch in the second inning.
And the senior — with Ryan Cram standing at second base — delivered the game winner on his line drive down the third-base line to seal the win.
The collective resolve is never wasted, Michel said.
“It is a big mental game. Mentally and physically, we just stay in it,” Michel said. “We have a deep staff, and we have every pitcher we need.”
Ace Akers toed the rubber for the Eagles but was removed after just 1 1/3 innings, as he allowed four runs, including a two-run home run to Kickapoo starting hurler Mason Auer.
But again, the positivity never wavered and the Eagles did what they do best: rise to the occasion.
“The second it went to extra innings, I said, ‘It’s over here. This is our game and we are going to win,’” Michel said.
Sophomore and University of Arkansas commit Isaac Mitchell came on in relief of Akers and mowed down the Kickapoo offense — not allowing a single run in his 6 2/3 innings of work — keeping his Eagles in the hunt throughout the tilt.
Michel said Mitchell is a sophomore playing at an upperclassmen level.
Said Michel: “Oh … the kid is an athlete. Everything he does is good. He throws strikes and gets the ball on the ground and in the air. He does his job.”
Three of the Eagles’ four hitters struck out in the seventh inning — setting the table for free baseball for the packed house.
In the eighth, Cram ignited the Nixa faithful with his leadoff single, before Bryan Avery’s sac bunt pushed Cram to second base with one out and the score knotted up at four apiece.
After Evann Long struck out, the Chiefs intentionally passed Joe Reid to get to Michel — who also had the game-winning hit in the Eagles’ 14-inning Central Ozark Conference win at Willard earlier in the campaign.
While Michel has been struggling of late at the plate, the résumé speaks for itself.
Michel said he was shocked a little bit by the intentional pass to Reid, even if he [Michel] had just homered three innings prior.
“Um, yeah, a little bit,” Michel said of Reid’s free pass, “especially after I hit that [homer]. But it’s a game. Joe is a great hitter. I have been struggling a little here and there — swing and miss and popping up. They [Chiefs] have been at our games watching us and they knew that. So they took their best chance and it turned out OK.”
Given the way things unraveled early, Michel said he couldn’t have written a better script: both individually and collectively.
“Yeah, it was a great game. I felt good and it couldn’t have been any better,” Michel said. “Maybe not getting down 4-0 in the second inning, but it was fun.”
Nixa head coach Jason Daughtery has been coaching for more than 20 years, but this Eagles team has that internal fortitude, that constant fire — no matter if it’s at the preseason jamboree or crunch time in a postseason ambience.
“There have been a lot of really good games throughout the years, but I just knew that if we got anything off Auer, it would be a bonus,” Daughtery said. “Once his pitch count started getting up there, I knew if we could get him out … I know they have other good pitching, but he is just tough. Just chipped away and chipped away. Kinson had a good night. He really did.”
The constant work ethic, Daughtery said, is what makes the 2019 Eagles a cohesive unit.
“They work hard and I think we have a little fun,” Daughtery said. “They have just found ways all year. I wish I could bottle it all up, [but] we have to find a way tomorrow because it is going to be another tough one. They just find a way.”
Mitchell was credited with the win while Zach McKinnis took the loss.
Nixa plays Glendale at 6 p.m. Tuesday for the district championship.