WILLARD — As trees beyond Willard’s outfield fence blocked the sun in the late stages of Nixa’s COC contest with the Lady Tigers on Tuesday, Bri Chilton found the shade welcomed relief.
“At the beginning of the game, it was hot,” Chilton said. “I could tell it got a lot cooler once the mound got in the shade. That was nice.”
Shade or no shade, Nixa’s bats remained cool. The Lady Eagles were blanked by Willard pitcher Hannah Burks while dropping a 3-0 decision.
It was the second straight COC game in which Nixa was shut out. The Lady Eagles lost 1-0 to Carthage last week. They have scored one run in their last three COC matchups.
Nixa was nearky no-hit by Burks. The Lady Eagles' lone hit was a single by Grace West on an 0-2 count.
“Earlier in the season, we were hitting really well. But we're going down into a hole with our hitting,” said Chilton, a junior pitcher. We're struggling. I don't know if we're trying to push too much or what.”
“We didn't put anything together at the plate,” coach Matt Walker said. “(Burks) kept us off balance We didn't square anything up.
"We're in a little funk," he added. "A couple weeks ago we were hitting about anybody. Now, we're struggling quite a bit. Maybe it's a mindset or some mechanical stuff. We’ll get after it and try to get them right before Districts.”
Chilton was the hard-luck losing pitcher against both Willard and Carthage. She matched Burks through four innings by shutting out Willard.
“I think I pitched pretty good,” she said. “I held us in the game.”
“Bri did a good job limiting the damage,” Walker said. “They didn't crush anything off of her. She left a couple balls fat. But it's hard to be perfect throughout the whole game.”
Chilton was at her best against Willard’s best hitters, third baseman Alyson Miller and shortstop Reese Anderson. Miller, who has been vastly underrrated by COC coaches despite being one of the league’s premier power hitters for three years, was 1-for-3 with a double. Anderson, a slick-fielding shortstop whose glove is better than her bat, was 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
“If you would have told me (Anderson) would get no hits, I would be thinking we've got a real good chance,” Walker said of the leadoff hitter.
“When they come up the first time, I'm excited to see how it's going to go,” Chilton said about facing established hitters. “Normally, I try my best and go right at them. I focused on what I could control.”
Burks bounced back well from an ankle injury she suffered last week in a 7-2 win at Ozark.
"She's a good pitcher. She spins the ball good,” Chilton said of her counterpart. "She has gotten better over the years.”
Willard (13-5 overall and 5-1 in the COC), Neosho (21-5 and 6-1) and Carthage (14-11 and 5-2) are the frontrunners in the COC race.
Nixa (10-8 and 3-4) could see Willard again as soon as this weekend at the Springfield Invitational or at Districts.
“Maybe redemption will be in order for us,” Walker said.