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Hughes’ homer helps Ozark keep its hex on Branson

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With her pre-game preparation and mindset now centered on her hitting, Ozark’s Savannah Hughes is hitting with more power than ever.

Hughes has hit her first two varsity home runs less than two weeks into the Lady Tigers’ season. She belted a majestic blast estimated at 250 feet Tuesday that easily cleared even the spacious dimensions at Branson’s Lady Pirate Field.

Hughes’ two-run home run highlighted Ozark’s 10-9 triumph over Branson in the COC opener for both teams.

The plan for the Lady Tigers this season is for Hughes to primarily start at first base or left field and when needed, be used as a relief pitcher or spot starter. Over the past two years, she had been a starting pitcher.

“With pitching, you have to think about every mechanic,” Hughes said. “When I’m hitting, I can get my mind right before the game just on my fielding and hitting. At first base, it’s not very mental. It’s just about knocking the ball down and using your body. My only issue with hitting is making sure I don’t pull my head when I try to hit the ball too hard.”

Hughes knew she hit her home run hard, but thought it might be too high to leave the park.

“It was one of those that was really high, so when I saw it I thought it would be really close to being out,” she said. “I didn’t know how far it was going to go.”

“I knew it was gone as soon as she hit it, pretty much the whole dugout did, too,” winning pitcher Jordyn Foley said. “If she gets a hold of it, it’s going far.”

Coach Jimmy Nimmo thinks the strength Hughes gained in the off-season will help her consistently hit home runs, whether she hits pitches on a line or with elevation.

“The work she put in the weight room, you can see it paying dividends. She’s gained quite a bit of power,” Nimmo said. “She’s been showing a lot of promise. I’ve always had confidence in her hitting. She’ll make you pay for mistakes if you leave it out there.”

Hughes added she feels the confidence she gains from hitting can carry over to her pitching when she is called upon for relief.

“I like coming in relief more than starting,” she said. “My hitting can change my pitching. When I’m doing good hitting, it makes me feel better for pitching.”

Ozark (4-2), which jumped on top of Branson (4-4) 10-2, received four hits from Courtney Merrell, three hits and three RBIs from Natalie Morgan and two hits and three RBIs from Brooklyn Hasler.

Foley pitched the first six innings, before Nimmo had Hasler relieve her. Hasler was fresh off a 2-0 shutout against Rogersville last week, but was touched for six runs in the Lady Pirates’ seven-run seventh.

Branson had the tying run on second base, before Foley struck out the final batter. Foley relieved Hasler after the Lady Pirates made it 10-7.

The one-run margin was as close as Branson has ever come to beating Ozark.

“Brooklyn came in and it basically should have been 1-2-3. We had a couple defensive mistakes,” Nimmo said. “I told the girls before the game Branson is not going to give up and that if we give them some breathing room they’re going to take advantage of it.

“It wasn’t a lost of faith in Brooklyn that I took her out. She has a lot of potential,” he added. “I was just trying to take the wind out of Branson’s sail and it worked to our advantage.”

Ozark entertains defending COC champion Webb City on Thursday, before hosting the Ozark’s Fall Festival this weekend.

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