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Kelley adds to his post-season resume, as Eagles deny Carthage upset bid

NIXA'S COLIN KELLEY follows through on a delivery home Wednesday.
NIXA'S COLIN KELLEY follows through on a delivery home Wednesday.

SPRINGFIELD — With Colin Kelley finishing what he started Wednesday, Nixa didn’t endure the same kind of ending to its season as Republic.

The No. 3 seed Eagles staved off an upset bid by No. 6 seed Carthage and pulled out a 4-2 Class 6 District 6 first-round victory.

Kelley went the distance, allowing just two unearned runs in the fifth inning. 

“Why go into a game you’re expecting not to finish?” Kelley said, “(A complete game) is the goal as a starter. You want to go out and give your team the best chance to win and pitch the most innings you can go.”

Kelley still had about 10 pitches left before reaching MSHAAA’s maximum pitch count of 105. He gave up three hits and two walks.

It was in contrast to Kelley’s start versus Republic two weeks ago. His outing was cut short to five innings, with his pitch count at 96.

Coach Logan Hughes was pleased to see Kelley make a concentrated effort of making the most of every pitch.

“The last time out against Republic is when his pitch count got built up. He did a better job of that tonight,” Hughes said. “One kid got a hit on a first-pitch curveball and we were like, 'Hey, that's fine. It's one pitch and he got a hit. That's okay.' I'm fine with that. As long as he's attacking, he's got a chance to finish the game.”

Kelley struck out 10 to up his season strikeouts total to 64 over 55.1 innings.

A year ago, Kelly responded exceptionally well to the post-season as a reliever. He was credited with victories while closing out Nixa’s District final and Sectional victories by throwing a combined eight scoreless innings.

“It feels really good to have your team rely on you. The pressure makes the game more fun,” Kelley said. “Everything matters. Every single pitch, every at-bat matters.”

Ideally, Hughes actually would have preferred for Kelley to have a short stint that would have possibly made him eligble to throw in Saturday’s title game, if Nixa makes it to the final.

“We thought in a perfect world, if we could get some runs early, maybe we could keep him under his pitch count and bring him back,” Hughes said. “But Carthage is on the rise, they competed and made us earn everything tonight."

Nixa (22-14) jumped on top 2-0 in the second inning, thanks to a walk by Caeden Cloud, a double by Adam McKnight, a Carthage wild pitch and an RBI sacrifice fly by Jack Edwards.

The Tigers tied things at 2 in the top of the fifth.

The Eagles broke a 2-all tie in the bottom the fifth. With two outs, Caleb Jones singled and stole second base, Wyatt Vincent delivered an RBI single and Cloud came through with an RBI single of his own.

Nixa advances to play Neosho (10-22) in a semifinal at noon today. The game was moved up due to Neosho holding its graduation ceremony tonight.

The seventh-seed Wildcats edged No. 2 seed Republic 2-1 in eight innings Wednesday. Last week, Republic beat Neosho 14-0.

The Eagles vow not to look past Neosho.

“We were all kind of shocked. Nobody expected (Republic) to lose,” Kelley said. “But I'm not really that surprised. Neosho’s No. 1 (pitcher Bostyn Patterson ) is really good. 

“If anything, I think it was more eye-opening for (Carthage) to realize anybody's got a shot,” he added. “It was a confidence-booster for them. It also made us realize we're not safe.”

“An underdog team is a scary team (because) they play like there is nothing to lose,” Hughes said “We need to focus on us. We've felt all year we're the best team (in the District). We just need to execute. If we do that, we like our chances.”

Hughes will choose from his ace, Jackson Gamble, or Nate Uber, Cameron Miller and Grady Eofff to send to the mound.

“We like our chances no matter who we put on the mound,” Hughes said. “Everybody we've put out there has done a great job this year.”

Nixa beat Neosho 7-1 in April.

The Eagles-Wildcats game will have a Branson flavor, with Hughes and Neosho coaches Bo and Tee Helsel all former Pirates players and Eagles third-base coach Troy Nimmo a former Branson coach.