With so many Nixa Baseball Club organization members on both sides, Friday’s Hollister-Nixa showdown of unbeatens resembled an intra-squad scrimmage.
“There were a lot of familiar faces,” Eagles coach Logan Hughes said.
As well as many of the players knew each other, Nixa pitchers Keith Piepmeier and Rylan Evans were able to keep things unpredictable in the Eagles’ 1-0 victory.
Piepmeier and Evans shut out the Tigers on four hits, with their off-speed pitches playing a primary factor. Most telling, they threw their curve ball for strikes on a variety of counts.
“I had a 3-2 count and threw a curve ball and it froze them,” Piepmeier said, referring to one of his eight strikeouts. “It's nice having a curve. It gets them off balance. You come back with a fast ball or a changeup and they don't know what to expect.”
“Hitting is about timing and my job is to throw off their timing,” said Evans, who earned the save while striking out two over the sixth and seventh innings. “If they're expecting something, I can't throw that. I've got to keep them on their toes the best I can.”
Hughes noted that even on the rare occasions in which Piepmeier and Evans fell behind in a count, they could still go to their curve.
“Their breaking ball was really sharp,” Hughes said. “It didn't matter what the count was, they were throwing it. When you can throw breaking balls on hitter's counts, you're going to have success.”
Piepmeier and Hardy Dougan, who won 4-3 Saturday versus Staley, could give Nixa (9-0) a pair of No. 1 pitchers.
Piepmeier had limited throwing over the winter due to his basketball commitments and appears to be getting stronger with each outing.
“Keith is getting better every time he's on the mound, which is to be expected after he was a basketball guy playing all the way to the championship game,” Hughes said. “As games go along, he’s getting in a groove. He's a special pitcher.”
“Overall, my arm feels pretty good,” Piepmeier said. “I’ve got a little more in me.”
Piepmeier and all the players had to shake off the disappointment of not playing at Hammons Field. The site of the game was moved to Nixa was a few hours before game time due to wet field conditions at Hammons.
“I was pretty mad about it. I was looking forward to pitching on that field,” Piepmeier said. “But it's all right. We still got the W, that's all that matters.”
Evans has shined in both of his appearances, after a subpar showing in Nixa’s pre-season jamboree.
“It was not one of my best performances, that's for sure,” Evans said. “I couldn't find the strike zone. I should have been locked in. It was a learning experience. I thought to myself, 'There's only one place to go, that's up.’
“I’m very proud of my work ethic, not wanting to give up, seeing things through and trusting the process,” he added.
“His last two outings have been lights out. It shows how tough of a kid he is,” Hughes said.
Nixa’s lone run came in the second inning on a double by Tanner Grant and a sacrifice fly by Reese Dirnberger.
Grant’s double off the left-field fence was the Eagles’ only hit. They hit into two double plays.
“We were timid at the plate, not attacking the way we want to attack,” Hughes said. “Our approach offensively is something we will continue to work through.”
Grant continued to wreck havoc on opposing pitching Saturday. He had a pair of hits and three RBIs against Staley.
“He's such a big presence. When he’s batting, we tell our guys, 'Something good is going to happen,’” Hughes said. “Tanner doesn't care who is pitching or what is going on around him. He just gets in the box and attacks and expects to win. He's confident.
“When you attack in the box, and this is what we're trying to get all our guys to understand, you're going to be wrong sometimes, but a lot of good things are going to happen,” Hughes added. “We're hoping our guys can learn from Tanner and it will be contagious.”
Next up for Nixa is Glendale (8-3) on Wednesday. During the Eagles’ 18-1 start three years ago, the Falcons handed them their lone defeat and later ended their season at Districts.
I don't know who's going to beat us because we're looking really good,” Piepmeier said.