Log in

With Eagles 'suffocating' from pressure to win, Hughes seeking relaxed approach

NIXA'S JACK EDWARDS reaches for a late throw at home plate versus Republic Tuesday.
NIXA'S JACK EDWARDS reaches for a late throw at home plate versus Republic Tuesday.

Rylan Michel and the six other Nixa seniors who took part in a somber ‘Senior Night’ on Tuesday are facing adversity in the form of mounting losses for practically the first time in their careers.

The Eagles (17-14 overall and 4-3 in the COC) suffered an 8-5 setback at the hands of Republic. They have two more losses this season than they had the past two seasons combined.

Multi-sport stars the likes of Wyatt Vincent, Adam McKnight, Parker Mann and Broden Mabe have also been very accustomed to winning at a frequent rate. 

Entering this spring, Nixa’s football, basketball and baseball teams combined for a 204-37 record (.846 winning percentage) over the last four years.

Coach Logan Hughes feels his players have been burdened by trying to meet the standards set by the Eagles in recent years.

“Expectations are extremely high in every sport,”Hughes said. “We’re putting a lot of expectations on the kids. That's what comes with winning. Honestly, I think it's not fair. It's hard to handle all that pressure. 

"We've been playing a lot of baseball without breathing this year because we're tight," he added. "Expectations are so high that we are forcing a lot of stuff. We're putting so much pressure on ourselves to win every night that it's kind of suffocating.”

The scoreboard had Nixa with only one error against Republic, but the Eagles actually had four errors. They were lacking in other fundamentals that didn’t show up on the stats sheet.  

“(Republic) earned it, but four or five of their eight runs we gave to them by not making plays,” Hughes said. “We’re making mistakes that are out of character.”

Dating back to the start of last season, one can count on one hand the number of times Nixa has lost back-to-back games with Jackson Gamble and Colin Kelley as its starting pitchers.  With Gamble losing to Kickapoo 3-2 on Monday and Kelley the starter on Tuesday, this is only the fourth such occasion and second this season that the Eagles have lost games in succession that Gamble and Kelley started.

Kelley left with a 2-1 lead, but left after only four innings with a pitch count of 96.

Hughes credited Republic hitters for helping cause Kelley’s pitch count to inflate.

“I don't know how many at-bats they got to two strikes and they fouled off pitches,” Hughes said. 

Hughes added Kelley will be better off trying to pitch to contact rather than going for strikeouts. Kelley had six strikeouts and three walks Tuesday.

“He's trying to make a perfect pitch every time,” Hughes said. “He might give up a few more hits. But he can’t get so deep into counts. 

“He’ll be all right,” Hughes added. “He’s really good and everyone has a lot of confidence in him.”

Republic pitcher Caide White’s pitch count was at 56 though four innings. He reached his pitch count of 105 with one out in the seventh.

Nixa managed only four hits. Vincent had a two-run single in the seventh inning and McKnight had a pair of hits, including an RBI single in the first.

“We've got guys at the top (of the lineup) who are so used to success and the guys at the bottom are almost trying to match that,” Hughes said. “We don't need them to do that. We just need every guy to go up and compete as hard as they can. That's all we ask.”

Hughes was encouraged by Nixa’s comeback efforts in the seventh, after falling behind 8-2. Gehrig Eoff was hit by a pitch, Nathan Uber reached on an error and Broden Mabe walked. They all came around to score.

After Vincent delivered a single and Caeden Cloud walked, McKnight made a bid to tie things up. His hard-hit fly ball to right-center reached the warning track area before Republic’s center fielder corralled it to end the game.

“We were down six and everybody is thinking, ‘We're not going to win.’ But we approached it with a better attitude,” Hughes said. “I felt we were able to breathe. We were finally able to relax. I felt something different in the dugout that last inning. I think it's going to carry over. 

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this team,” he added. “It’s weird to say that after losing two games. But we'll figure it out.”