In his one season wearing a Nixa uniform, Ethan Taylor gained a strong loyalty to his new teammates that never wavered, even under adverse conditions.
All that possibly kept Taylor from pitching Nixa into a state championship game were a throwing error and not enough offensive support Friday.
But the Idaho transplant remained as faithful as ever to his cohorts following a 2-1 Nixa setback at the hands of Liberty North in a Class 6 semifinal.
Both of North’s first-inning runs were unearned due to a throwing error with two outs.
“The defense has been there all year,” Taylor said. “We all kick the ball around sometimes.”
Nixa was guilty of two throwing errors, the first two miscues by the Eagles’ defense in the post-season.
Taylor was up to the challenge of going up against Liberty starting pitcher Tate McGuire, an Arkansas signee.
Taylor threw six innings while allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. He no-hit the eventual state champions over the final five frames.
Yet, he was saddled with his first loss on the season to drop to 9-1.
“He deserved to win tonight,” coach Logan Hughes said. “He was incredible. He got better as the game went along. He settled in and kept them off balance all game. He pretty much shut down a really good offensive team.”
The stage certainly wasn’t too big for Taylor.
“That's who he is. He doesn't get flustered by the big moment,” Hughes said. “He trusted himself and his catcher.”
Taylor’s delivery was free and easy.
“It was a big game and there were nerves,” he said. “But I loved the pressure. I was really feeling comfortable. I went out there and cleared my mind. I was just having fun.”
Taylor agreed with Hughes that he was better at the end of the game than the first inning.
"The first couple of innings, I relied on my fast ball and two-seam (fast ball) to keep them on their toes,” Taylor said. “Toward the end, I got my curve ball and changeup to work. They were a little wild toward the beginning of the game.
“I'm upset we loss, but good with the performance I put together,” he added.
McGuire overpowered Nixa hitters with his fast ball and slider. He struck out 11.
“There's a reason he is who he is and he's going where he's going,” Hughes said. “When he's got ‘velo’ like he has and the slider to go with it, you've got to try to take one away. His slider is a plus-pitch. He threw it a couple times in a big moment, once to (Rylan) Michel and you could he threw it harder than he normally did and it was nastier.”
The hope from Nixa’s side was McGuire might tire. But he was still throwing hard in the fifth and sixth innings. McGuire threw 96 pitches before Ty Wisdom took over for him for the seventh.
“He's really strong and has good endurance,” Taylor said of McGuire.
Nixa plated its lone run in the fifth, thanks to a triple by Wyatt Vincent and a two-out, RBI-double by Caeden Cloud.
The run stopped Liberty North's shutout streak that had reached five games and four innings.
“One inning we got the hit, the rest of the innings we couldn't get the hit,” Hughes said.
Altogether, Nixa batters struck out 13 times. Wisdom, a Kansas signee, fanned two in the seventh.
Hughes added he was proud of his hitters for battling against an elite pitcher the likes of McGuire.
In the second, Jack Edwards and Reese Dirnberger led off the inning with singles. The threat ended with Nixa leaving the bases loaded.
“Our guys did such a good job of getting in the box and fighting and competing. Not a single guy gave into him,” Hughes said.
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