For the second time during his freshman year, Nixa’s Caeden Cloud is showing the kind of maturity both physically and mentally that a seasoned senior would be proud of.
Cloud is a highly-touted shortstop prospect, but is keeping his glove in his backpack for the time being. He’s serving as a designated hitter for the Eagles and handling the assignment admirably.
Cloud picked up his first two varsity hits and first two varsity RBIs in Nixa’s 9-3 triumph versus Columbia Rock Bridge on Friday.
This is his first first experience as a DH and he’s willing and able.
“It’s different,” Cloud said of not taking the field. “It’s something I’ve got to adjust to. Whatever I can do to help the team win. It’s a great opportunity to play as a freshman. I’m thankful for it.”
It’s somewhat similar to the scenario Cloud found himself in while debuting for Nixa’s soccer team last fall. A couple weeks into the season, coach Evan Palmer had him switch from forward to defender. Unlike being a DH, he had experience already on defense.
“Our biggest need was in the back,” Cloud said. “That’s what the team needed, so that was the role I was going to fill. I played back in club (ball), so I was more than happy to do it.
“Basically, what I’ve been doing in high school so far is whatever my coach needs, I’m there to do it,” he added.
New Nixa coach Logan Hughes reports Cloud’s response to being a DH has been professional.
“It speaks to what type of kid he is and the family he comes from,” Hughes said. “The kid just wants to play baseball and win. The kid is special. He is way beyond his years as far as his IQ and his feel for the game. He’s going to be really good.”
As for which sport Cloud considers his true calling, it’s baseball, at least for eight months out of the year.
“After soccer season, it’s full-time baseball for me,” he said. “My focus after soccer season switches completely to baseball. I get in the cages and get my arm ready. Same thing with soccer, once soccer season starts all my focus goes to soccer.”
Cloud was instrumental in Nixa rallying from a 3-0 deficit against Rock Bridge. He delivered an RBI-single as part of the Eagles’ four-run second inning and added an RBI-double in Nixa’s two-run third.
“Getting my first couple hits felt good,” he said. “First two games, maybe I had a little bit of first-games nerves. Today, I tried not to even think about (nerves). I took a deep breath and trusted my abilities. I was able to help the team get the ‘W.’ If I’m not getting hits, I’m not helping the team win.”
Cloud may have hit the ball hardest in his third at-bat. He ripped a live drive that ricocheted off of the glove of Rock Bridge’s third baseman. Kudos to Nixa’s official scorer for rightfully ruling the play as an E-5.
“I’m unlucky that it went right at him, that’s baseball,” Cloud said.
Nixa’s offense also included an RBI-double by Jaret Nelson and RBI-singles by Tanner Grant and Sam Russo.
Winning pitcher Keith Piepmeier and reliever Brayton Tangora combined to hold Rock Bridge to five hits.
“Keith walked a couple guys in the first inning and the second inning and those were the two innings when they scored runs,” Hughes said., “When we minimized the walks and free bases, we didn’t give up any runs. When you make teams hit to earn their runs, it’s tough for them to score.”
In the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association’s first rankings released this past week, Rock Bridge was tabbed No. 4 in Class 6 and Nixa No. 8.
“This is hopefully going to be two top-10 teams all year,” Hughes said. “This was good game for us to find out what we can do. Our energy, toughness and fight were good to see.”
Nixa ended last season on a downswing by losing six of its last eight games while exiting in the first round of Districts and having its ace, Isaac Mitchell, graduate. A year later, there’s no denying the enthusiasm surrounding the Eagles is on a dramatic upswing.
“We had great energy in our dugout, on the field and in the stands — our guys fed off of that,” Hughes said.
The Eagles improved to 5-0 by downing Rockhurst 6-5 and edging Lee’s Summit 4-3 Saturday in Kansas City.
Russo delivered a two-out, RBI-single in the top of the seventh to break a 3-all tie against Lee’s Summit. He scored Rylan Michel, who had singled and stole second base.