A rough start nearly turned into the game of a lifetime for Nixa’s Austin Hyde. On the first pitch of Thursday’s Central Ozark Conference-Large Division game with Willard, Hyde beaned Tigers outfielder Keaton Presley.
Two steals and a wild pitch later, Presley came across home plate to put Willard ahead 1-0 just one batter into the game. It was not looking good for Hyde, who could only smile after hitting the leadoff hitter Presley.
“I was kind of like, ‘So that’s the game it’s going to be,’” Hyde said. “That’s the initial thought, first pitch of the game and you come out and hit a kid. How’s that supposed to feel? But, I knew if I threw strikes that I had a solid defense behind me. All I had to do was let them make the plays and I made the adjustment after that.”
Hyde threw strikes, the Nixa defense turned out after out, and Willard was held hitless nearly the rest of the game. The senior pitcher came up two outs shy of his first career no-hitter in Nixa’s 6-1 victory.
Michael Pfeifer got Willard’s lone hit of the game with a single between short and third in the seventh inning. It would’ve been the first no-no for Hyde, who said that last summer he pitched a hitless ballgame until it was broken up – in the seventh inning.
Hyde got some help, and then helped himself, to keep Willard hitless. The first big defensive play came in the fifth inning when Eagles senior outfielder Brendon Mueller made a diving catch on a shallow-hit ball to right center.
In the sixth, Hyde snatched a rocket comebacker off the bat of pinch-hitter Justin Atchison and made the easy toss to first for the out. Hyde’s eyes weren’t exactly on the ball, either.
“I just kind of stuck my glove down,” Hyde said. “After I came in and my infielders congratulated me, I told them I would open my eyes next time.
“You watch a baseball game and there’s always that point when you see a no-hitter, one or two plays, you have to have a spectacular play to get it. After Brendon’s, hopes got up, I was like ‘That could be it.’ After mine, I was like ‘That’s gotta be it.’ But, oh well. I’ll take the W.”
Nixa went ahead 6-1 with four runs in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded, senior JD Payne smacked a 2-run single to make it 4-1 and knock Willard starter Chase Stevens out of the game.
The Eagles would add two more runs in the inning, one on a Willard fielding error and another on a sac-fly RBI that brought Payne home.
Willard pitched around Payne throughout the game, issuing three walks to the power hitter.
“JD Payne has got the reputation, no one really wants to pitch to him unless they have to,” said Nixa coach Howard Greenwood. “Sometimes, we have to play with that. It doesn’t always work to our advantage, but it did tonight.”
Hyde finished with five strikeouts, no walks and one hit allowed.
“What I like about is that even though he might not have gotten the first pitch over, he was throwing a strike out of the first two pitches,” Greenwood said. “That puts him ahead. He was attacking the zone, which kind of put pressure on Willard.”
Hyde had the benefit of often working ahead in the count, something he used to his advantage.
“I’m able to use all my pitches then,” Hyde said. “I’m not necessarily just trying to hit a spot, I can miss a little bit and make them chase. I don’t have to put it in the zone to get a strike. It gives you a lot more flexibility, which helped a lot.”
The game was originally scheduled to be played at Nixa but moved to Willard because of field conditions.
Nixa (12-10 overall, 5-4 COCL) faces West Plains at 4 p.m. May 11 in the Class 5, District 11 tournament hosted by Branson High School.
Willard is the host school for Class 5, District 12 and faces either Webb City or Republic in the semifinals at 7 p.m. May 13.
Nixa 6, Willard 1
R H E
Willard 1-0-0-0-0-0-0---1 1 2
Nixa 1-0-1-4-0-0-0----6 8 1
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