Outfielder Wyatt Vincent and coach Logan Hughes don’t expect any carryover effect at this weekend's Class 6 Final Four from Nixa's loss last season to defending state champion Liberty North.
Nixa and Liberty North will re-converge in a 7 p.m. semifinal showdown Friday at Sky Bacon Stadium.
A year ago, Liberty North handed Nixa an 11-1 beating as part of a weekend double-dip in Columbia. It’s the only time over the past five years the Eagles have been 10-run-ruled.
Earlier that day and perhaps most telling, Nixa lost to Liberty 10-8.
“We fought really hard that game and when we ended up losing we were demoralized,” Vincent said. “We played that game at Rock Bridge and then drove over to Hickman to play Liberty North. I don't think we were really there that game. It wasn't Nixa baseball that game. We didn't show what we're capable of.
“We'll give them a good run for their money this time,” he added.
“We didn't have good energy from the first pitch and (Liberty North) jumped on us right off the bat,” Hughes said. “That was last year.”
This time around, both teams are playing about as well as they could possibly hope. During their post-season runs, Liberty North (32-7) and Nixa (32-6) have been particularly efficient upon taking the field.
Liberty North has a five-game shutout streak dating back to its regular-season finale that has captured the attention of baseball circles around the state. Meanwhile, Nixa’s defense has put together a streak of its own, although less heralded. Nixa was error-free in its three District wins and Quarterfinal triumph.
The closest Nixa has come to a fielding miscue in the post-season was not executing on a pickle-play in Quarters at Blue Springs.
“We had an opportunity to get a guy in a run-down that we didn't execute well and didn't get an out that we possibly could have,” Hughes said. “As long as our pitchers continue to attack and pitch ahead, we give ourselves opportunities by playing good defense.”
Hughes points out catcher Jack Edwards has been instrumental in Nixa's exceptional defense.
“He makes such a huge difference back there for us,” Hughes said. “He's been incredible. He's been one of our key pieces by working really hard, throwing guys out and calling games really well by learning what hitters are doing by the swings he is seeing.”
Liberty North’s headliners are pitchers Tate McGuire and Ty Wisdom. McGuire has signed with Arkansas and Wisdom with Kansas. North has not allowed a run since May 11. Since then, it has shut out Liberty, North Kansas City, Oak Park, Staley and Rockhurst.
McGuire and Wisdom combined for a no-hitter against Rockhurst. McGuire blanked Staley on three hits while striking out eight. He had 19 strikeouts while shutting out Liberty.
Nixa knows all about Liberty’s elite pitching and is excited about the challenge.
“They're a top team in the state, so it's expected for them to throw the ball well,” Vincent said. “But we have an advanced group of hitters, so I think we can compete.”
“They've got a couple arms that have been in the low- to mid-90s,” Hughes said. “Against Rockhurst, (McGwire) was 92-94 (mph). I'm not sure if we'll face him or not. Whoever it is, we'll be ready. We don't have high-heater arms (to hit against in batting practice). We try to use our (pitching) machine as much as we can to simulate that.
“They've got a lot of (NCAA) power-five kids,” he added. “If you want to be the best at the end, you've got to beat the best. We're looking forward to the opportunity.”
No matter the results of Nixa's at-bats early on, Hughes expects his hitters to be persistent.
“What we do a really good job of is battling every at-bat,” he said. “Late in games, guys' pitch-counts get higher and they have to bring in bullpen guys. That's when we usually take advantage by grinding — finding ways to get on base and then somebody like TG (Tanner Grant) comes up and gets a big hit.”
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