Nixa will present opponents quite a contrasting look in the center circle this season, what with Paige Gareston being a 5-foot-4 left-hander and Bri Chilton a 5-11 righty.
Coach Matt Walker enters the Lady Eagles’ opener Friday at Kickapoo with an open mind about throwing Garetson and Chilton in the same week, same tournament and even the same game.
"That might be an option,” Walker said. “Once (hitters) start to figure something out, throw someone else and then they've got to figure it all out again. If you’re getting 3-4 at-bats in a game, it might be difficult to switch up your game plan.”
Garetson and Chilton put themselves in the position of opposing hitters and agree the differences in which side they throw from, their arm angles and their selection of pitches could prove baffling.
“Our differences would throw (hitters) off,” Garetson said. “If we throw both of us, they won't have much time (to adjust).”
“I think it will throw off hitters,” Chilton said. “I’ve faced pitchers like that and it takes an at-bat to adjust.”
Scouting reports on Nixa will have to include notes on both pitchers. Walker could rotate his pitchers’ starting assignments however he sees fit.
“Throw one girl one game and then throw the other girl the next game,” he said. “They have two different styles. Bri comes right at you and Paige spins it real well. If we can figure out how to use them right, it can definitely throw some teams off.”
Garetson and Chilton, both juniors, showed their capabilities as pitchers last season.
Garetson started 10 games and logged 58.2 innings while posting a 7-2 W-L record and 1.55 ERA.
Chilton threw seven innings over four games and allowed one run. Hitters batted .136 against her.
Walker has options almost everywhere on the field. He’s been impressed in pre-season practices with Nixa’s depth. The competition for starting jobs could lead to an array of lineup combinations.
“We’re probably more versatile than we've been in years,” Walker said. “We can juggle some things. It’s going to be a battle every single day in practice. Nothing is guaranteed.
“We're trying to figure out the pieces,” he added. “It’s going to be about what group meshes best together and figuring out the puzzle pieces to give us the best option to win.”
The Lady Eagles’ top hitter, Sara Sweaney, gives Walker options. Sweaney, who hit .443 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs last season, can play at first base or catcher. She filled in behind the plate last season after Taylor Melton was injured.
Other infielders include Chilton at first, Rylee Harper at first, Jordan Phillips at shortstop and Jaylyn Mabe at second base or third base.
Phillips becomes the first shortstop to begin her freshman season as a starter in recent years. Phoebe Gardner began her freshman season at third, before being moved to shortstop halfway through her freshman year.
“That's a position where a freshman sometimes can have growing pains,” Walker said. “She's a great ball player, but she’s young. Being a freshman, varsity ball can be a different kind of animal. I'm kind of going to throw her into the fire and see what happens.”
Outfielders include Garetson, Natalia Pharris, Rylee Harper, Lily Wooten, Mylee Harper and Grace West.
Rylee Harper batted .364 with 24 RBIs last season and Garetson hit .336 with a dozen walks.
Walker wants his players to hit their way into the starting lineup.
“We've told the girls it's going to be about whoever can hit for us because we lost a lot of production,” he said.
Nixa’s power has played out well in its cozy confines. Last year, the Lady Eagles hit 26 home runs and two years ago they had 33.
Walker thinks this outfit features power and speed.
“We've got some girls who can hit it out and a new dynamic of having more speed than we've had in the past,” he said.
Nixa will be out to extend its streak of reaching 20 wins to three years.
“I've been very upfront and honest with the girls that we've lost a lot of our varsity experience and we're not what we have been,” Walker said. “But we're going to get there by Districts. We want to win 20 games at least, and compete for the conference title and District championship. Those are lofty (goals), but things we can reach.”