Jackson Gamble can’t easily be categorized and not coincidentally, has not been easy to hit.
Showing every sign of being both a pitcher and a thrower, Gamble was highly effective with both his fast ball and curve ball while throwing a three-hit shutout in Nixa’s 6-0 triumph against Ozark on Thursday.
“I want to be a hard thrower, but also be a good pitcher and command my off-speed,” the rapidly rising sophomore star said. “I was trying to keep Ozark’s hitters off balance and keep them guessing. A couple times I messed up. But I thought we kept them off balanced.”
Only a year removed from a fledgling freshman season, Gamble skipped jayvee ball altogether this spring and has ascended to become Nixa’s ace. It’s early, but he’s looking like every bit of a contender for the COC Pitcher Of the Year award.
An Eagles pitcher, by the way, has been tabbed for that honor three straight seasons.
It was only three years ago Gamble first gained a grip of a curve ball. He learned the pitch from his father, John, who threw as a prep at South Pemiscot and in college at Dyersburg State and Mizzou in the 1990s.
“When I was younger, I would throw fastball, fastball, fastball and hitters wouldn't be able to catch up to it. I didn't really need an off-speed,” Jackson said. "Since I was 13-14, my curve has been the pitch I've used as my primary off-speed. There have been times I struggled with with it, but it’s working well for me now.”
The Gambles were mindful for Jackson not to throw a curve too early in his development and are now reaping the benefits.
“I tried to get him to learn to throw a curve just as a change of speed and not throw fast balls every pitch,” John Gamble said. “There was not a lot of strain on his arm at first. He started off throwing a straight-change and actually went to a knuckle ball before his curve ball.”
Gamble went to his curve Tuesday seemingly on any count. He even notched a strikeout while throwing a curve on a 3-2 delivery to one batter.
“He could throw it whenever he wanted to,” Ozark coach Justin Sundlie said. “It was an effective pitch. Our guys were plenty confused by it. And, he had a fast ball he could spot, as well. You’ve got to tip your hat.”
Nixa coach Logan Hughes relates Gamble’s success is a carryover from his work ethic in practices.
“Sometimes, kids want to throw hard, but can't command and can't repeat their mechanics,” Hughes said. “But he's doing a great job of that now. He's worked so hard that his mechanics are all repeatable, whether he's throwing anything.”
“I struggled a lot with walks last year. I would go four innings and throw 98 pitches or so,” Gamble said. “That was an adjustment I had to make. Hitting is hard. If I can just throw across the plate, a lot of hitters are going to struggle.”
Gamble and Ozark pitch Brady Dodd were locked in a scoreless duel for three innings., before Nixa reached Dodd for a run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Gehrig Eoff.
The Eagles added five runs in the sixth on an infield RBI-single by Eoff, a three-run triple by Collin Ussery and an RBI-single by Rylan Michel.
It may have stayed a 1-0 game if not for a throwing error by Dodd to second base in the sixth on what could have been a double play.
"He competed and gave us a chance to win,” Sundlie said. “I’m proud of him. Their guy outlasted him, though. Brady knows that. To win that game, Brady has to finish one more inning.”
Ussery’s triple all but clinched Nixa’s victory. The Eagles (13-2 overall and 2-0 in the COC) have won 11 straight.
“I wanted to break it open,” Ussery said. “Playing Ozark, I don't want to beat them 1-0. I want to beat them by as much as we can.”
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