Jackson Gamble’s name notwithstanding, Nixa coach Logan Hughes wouldn’t have risked the health of the sophomore pitcher’s right arm even if he had extended his no-hit bid to the seventh inning Tuesday.
Hughes probably wouldn’t have had any choice, anyway.
As things turned out, Gamble lost his no-hitter in the sixth inning and Nixa lost to Springfield Catholic 2-1 in eight innings.
The Eagles (2-1) played to win, but at this juncture of the season Gamble’s shining outing in his first varsity start could easily prove to be more prominent than the game’s outcome.
Gamble no-hit Catholic for 5.2 innings. He allowed only two baserunners, one on a walk and another on an error, before yielding a double in the sixth.
He certainly looked the part of the No. 1 pitcher Nixa is eager to discover on a staff full of newbies.
“(Hughes) has talked to me about trying to compete to be the ace on this team and have that, 'I'm better than you' and 'All my pitches can compete’ (attitude),” Gamble said. “I was a little nervous. But I had confidence today and it helped me out. I’m happy with how I pitched and thankful for my defense to make plays behind me. I was glad I could find the zone.”
“That's a kid who has the ‘It Factor,’” Hughes said. ‘He gets on the mound, hits a switch and gets in the zone. He has a good feel for who he is and all of his pitches. He has a lot of confidence in himself. The confidence comes because he works his tail off every single day. He builds confidence in his work ethic.”
Hughes added the ‘It Factor’ also fits Gamble because of the confidence his presences gives his teammates.
“You can tell from our team and our dugout when he walks out to the mound, that we know he's going to give us a zero,” Hughes said. “The guys know who works the hardest, they don’t miss that kind of stuff. They can tell when guys put the extra time in. You hope that translates to other guys. They say, 'He's doing really well because he works his tail off and now I've got to do the same.’”
Gamble gained everyone’s attention at U.S. Baseball Park while trying to throw Nixa’s first no-hitter since Keith Piepmeier's no-no against Sedalia Smith-Cotton two years ago.
“No one mentioned it. But I had the thought in my mind that it was going on,” Gamble said of his mindset in between innings. “I tried to forget about it because that normally leads to a hit. My curve ball was my go-to pitch. I trusted it almost as much as my fastball.”
He was in control even while often throwing amidst a constant mist.
“Every ground ball or passed ball, the ball would get wet and I would ask for it to be switched,” Gamble said. “Even when you got a dry ball, it wouldn't feel much different.”
Gamble’s pitch count was in the high 80s after Catholic finally reached him for a hit. Hughes promptly went to his bullpen.
“He didn't have too many batters left, anyway, before I had to pull him,” Hughes said, referring to MSHSAA’s pitch limitation in which a sophomore can throw a maximum of 95 pitches daily (a junior and senior can throw up to 105). “We need him for hopefully 36-plus games. We need him all year.”
Catholic, last year's Class 3 State runner-up, went on to tie the score at 1 in the sixth with a run on a wild pitch. The Irish won with no one out in the eighth on an error at the plate.
Both teams managed just two hits.
Nixa’s hits were singles from Wyatt Vincent and Jack Edwards.
The Eagles’ lone run came in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Caeden Cloud.
“We need to be a lot better at the plate,” Hughes said. “We need to do a better job of learning from our at-bats. We got pitched the same, but didn’t make adjustments. We had a lot of opportunities. But we couldn't get the extra hit or execute in a couple bunt situations. When it's 1-0 or 2-1, those are the plays that make the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s early, I understand,” he added. “We’ll get better. I’ve got confidence in our guys. I know those guys who had opportunities today are going to get the job done next time.”
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