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Hughes feels good about Nixa's depth on mound and throughout Eagles' lineup


Nixa’s pitching staff this spring will look to extend its streak of boasting the COC Pitcher Of the Year recipient to four seasons, while also trying to help the Eagles repeat as COC champions.

Heading into Nixa’s season-opener tonight versus Verdigris, Oklahoma, coach Logan Hughes is optimistic the most compelling question surrounding his team will be answered in a positive manner by a slew of pitchers who are mostly newcomers.

“I'm very happy with where our pitching is right now,” Hughes said. “We’ve got some good young arms who are going to do a lot of good things for us. We've got two of our best bullpen guys back who had really good years last year. If some of our young guys can step up, along with some of our older guys, I think we can have a lot of depth (on the mound).”

The relievers Hughes referred to are Rylan Evans and Brayton Tangora.

Evans is the most proven pitcher the Eagles have. The right-hander had a 4-2 W-L record with a 1.09 ERA last season. Over 26.2 innings pitcher, he yielded just 10 hits.

Other pitchers who figure to be in the mix are Ethan Taylor, Parker Bridges, Nate Uber, Alex Thomason, Colin Kelley, Jackson Gamble and Elijah Adams.

Hughes envisions a possible reoccurring scenario in which he packages pitchers together over the course of a game. 

“We might not have guys who are going to go six or seven innings every time out,” he said. “But we have a lot of good pitching that I think can eat up a lot of innings. We've got five or six solid starters who are going to compete and give us an opportunity to win every time out.”

Nixa’s pitching staff may be a pre-season question mark on paper, but the Eagles’ lineup features returning starters who already have enjoyed great success. Tanner Grant, Wyatt Vincent, Jack Edwards and Rylan Michel are about as good a foursome as one will find.

Last season, Grant had a .383 batting average with 30 RBIs, Vincent hit .376 with 24 stolen bases, Edwards batted .340 with five home runs and 41 RBIs and Michel hit .336 with 16 double, 45 runs scored and 24 walks.

Michel is moving from second base to left field, while Vincent stays in center. Joining them in the outfield are Ryan Buckner, Josiah Jenkins and Mason Eagleburger.

“It's going to be really hard to get a ball drop in that outfield,” Hughes said. “They can really run and go get it.”

Grant is switching corners by going from third base to first. Also in the infield are shortstop Caeden Cloud, Collin Ussery at second base and Gehrig Eoff at third. Broden Mabe and Reese Dirnberger are utility types.

Behind the plate, catching candidates are Edwards, Taylor, Eoff and Dylan Rebura.

One element of his team Hughes is proud of is the competition for starting jobs. He reports backups are pushing starters in practices daily.

“Guys know if they don't get the job done or don't play like we expect them to, we've got another guy ready to step in,” Hughes said. “It's been a lot of fun at practice because of our competition. Young guys are forcing the older guys to keep working and get better. Everybody has got to be on their toes and be ready to go every game.

"Our guys understand our expectations,” he added. "If they don't get the job done, we'll find the next guy." 

Likewise, Hughes is open-minded about shuffling his starters in his batting order.   

“We're trying to figure out where everyone fits in around each other the best,” he said. “We can move a lot of guys around. Jackson and Tanner are in the middle consistently. The rest of our lineup, they make it hard on us coaches because we have so many options that can get it done.”

Nixa will take part in tournaments at Hollister, Lebanon and Columbia. The Eagles will face a whopping 12 teams that last season won 20 or more games. That group includes Verdigris, Kickapoo, Glendale, Willard, Rogersville, Christian Brothers, Kennett, Summit Christian, Columbia Hickman, Francis Howell, Jackson and Columbia Rock Bridge. 


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