REPUBLIC — The uncertainty Colin Kelley felt about his role on Nixa’s pitching staff in the morning and afternoon Thursday was replaced by a absolute belief in himself and the Eagles’ defense that night.
Kelley responded to being summoned from Nixa’s bullpen with five shutout innings to help lift the Eagles to a 6-2 victory against Republic in the Class 6 District 5 championship game.
Kelley’s brilliant relief outing came after he was bypassed earlier in the day as Nixa’s starter on the mound by coach Logan Hughes in favor of Ethan Taylor.
“Coach does a good job of laying out the starters for the week and I was supposed to start this game,” Kelley said. “That changed earlier today. I was a little confused, I’m not going to lie. But I wanted the win more than anything. I knew I had to change my focus. I’m glad I got the opportunity.”
“The plan was to go with Ethan (in the first round against Springfield Central) and see how long we went. Fortunately, we got him out after 30 pitches,” Hughes said. “I decided to go with the senior (in Taylor tonight), but not because we didn’t want to go with Colin (a sophomore).
“Ethan gave us two good innings. But in the second inning, he had to battle a lot and there and was one 15 pitch at-bat,” Hughes added. “We felt his energy was letting up a little bit and the ball was starting to get elevated. It was time to make a move.”
Kelley entered the game and pitched with uncanny poise under the spotlight of a 2-all ball game and an overflow crowd.
“I was confident,” he said. “I felt dominant. All my pitches were working.”
Kelley shook off the disappointment he felt earlier in the day from not starting in the same manner he bounced back from rough starting assignments earlier this sason. He struggled mightily with his control and was hit hard by both Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Webb City. He didn’t make it past the third inning in either game.
Kelley gained valuable experience nonetheless.
“Those are the only two spotty outings I’ve had,” he said. “The Fayetteville game took a lot out of me. I had thrown well before that. But I learned from it. I realized I’m not going to be dominant every time.”
Naturally, Republic’s fans and players tried to rile Kelley ounce he took the mound. He expected the noise and blocked it out.
“I knew they were going to chirp and try to get in your head,” he said. “Everyone in our dugout was making sure I stayed locked in and focused.”
Kelley was able to throw strikes and spot his slider and changeup exceptionally well.
“I felt dominant. All my pitches were working,” he said.
“He was lights out,” catcher Jack Edwards said. “All of his stuff was working. His changeup was fantastic, the slider was great. He was amazing. He had the mentality he was going to get everyone out.”
“When Colin’s number was called, he answered,” Hughes said.
Kelley struck out the first two batters he faced, but didn’t mind pitching to contact, thanks to his confidence in Nixa’s infielders, outfielders and his batterymate.
“I don’t know how many balls Jack blocked tonight, but it was a lot. He was a demon behind the plate,” Kelley said. “I felt confident in our defense. I knew they were going to work for me.”
Nixa finally gave Kelley four runs to work with in the top of the seventh.
Wyatt Vincent led off the uprising with a walk and Rylan Michel followed with a sacrifice bunt that Republic seemingly couldn’t have misplayed any worse.
Not only did Vincent advance to second on the bunt, but Michel made it to first. The Tigers followed up by not having anyone at third base, extending an invite to Vincent to move another 90 feet. Then, Republic had no one at second, allowing Michel to also move into scoring position.
Caeden Cloud then walked to load the bases and set the stage for Edwards to step to the plate in an ideal situation for any hitter, much less a slugger the likes of Edwards.
Edwards had ripped a shot 350-some feet that was hauled in at the fence in left-center by Republic's center fielder in his previous at-bat.
“Any other park that’s a double or home run. He was playing deep and he got it,” Edwards said.
Ironically, Edwards became a hero by hitting a ground ball in the seventh.
“Baseball gets you like that,” Edwards said.
With Republic’s infield drawn in, Edwards’ one-hopper bounced over the Tigers’ shortstop to bring home Vincent and Michel.
“Whatever does it, does it,” Edwards said.
"That’s baseball, the ball bounced our way tonight,” Hughes said.
Edwards did his job with two strikes by simply putting the ball in play.
“At the beginning of the bat, I was trying to elevate and do some damage to the ball,” Edwards said. “Then, I was just trying to put the ball in play and see if I can get some runs across. It was a curve ball low. He was trying to get me to chase, but he didn’t get it quite low enough and I got the bat on it.”
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