Sara Sweaney admittedly is aware, that with six home runs in 11 games, she almost certainly is on a pace that could put her in position to break Nixa’s single-season home run record.
That's about all she'd like to acknowledge.
“I don’t want to know what it is,” the senior first baseman said of the school standard that oddly is unspecified. “That will get me thinking about it. I’m wanting to have a fun senior season. If I break it, that’s cool. But if I focus on breaking it and don’t, that will disappoint me.”
Sweaney remained her carefree, slugging ‘self Tuesday while belting a two-run home run in Nixa’s 7-1 triumph versus Ozark.
It was the 22nd homer of her career. She had seven as a sophomore and nine as a junior.
Sweaney already has established herself among Nixa’s premier power hitters of all-time and actually can lay claim to a feat no other Lady Eagle likely has ever accomplished.
Sweaney’s home run Tuesday to right-center cleared not one, but two scoreboards. With Nixa having recently updated its home confines with a new scoreboard in right-center, the old scoreboard was placed up against a chain-link fence just beyond the right-center fence.
Sweaney’s home run ball cleared the new scoreboard, hit the top of the old scoreboard, bounced over the chain-link fence and rolled onto a street and into the hands of a neighborhood boy on a bike ride.
“Wow!” Sweaney said of the adventure she sent the ball on.
Sweaney knew during her swing that she got a hold of the ball on the sweet spot of her bat.
“It felt like I was slicing through butter,” she said.
Sweaney’s homer and a two-run single by right fielder Rylee Harper, both in the fifth inning, broke open a pitchers duel, of all things.
Nixa (8-3 overall and 2-1 in the COC) is averaging 9 runs a game. The highest average for the Lady Eagles in recent seasons is 9.1 in 2010.
Ozark (9-6 and 1-2) is averaging 7.9 runs a game. That’s the highest average for the Lady Tigers since their nightly norm was 8.6 in 2014.
“Hitters are getting really strong,” Sweaney said. “If a pitcher throws one bad pitch (to a batter), it could be a home run.”
Nixa pitcher Bri Chilton and Ozark pitcher Kendall McCoy interrupted the hit parade for four innings, as the teams were tied at 1-all.
The Lady Eagles chased McCoy by plating four runs in the fifth. They added two runs in the sixth, thanks to a pair of Ozark errors.
By design, the right-handed hitting Sweaney took McCoy’s offerings the opposite way. She also had a single to right.
Travel ball connection prominent
Sweaney had an in-depth scouting report on McCoy. She and McCoy are among a large group of players from both sides who play travel ball together on Tenacity.
“I kind of expected what she was going to pitch to me and had worked on it the last few days,” Sweaney said. “I went up with the mindset of expecting outside (pitches) and adjust inside. She knows my weaknesses, But I didn’t let her capitalize on them this game. I worked on what I could control and that was hitting it where it’s pitched. I tell myself I can hit everything.”
A reason for Sweaney’s success is her ability to hit to all fields. She takes pride in not being classified as a pull hitter or an opposite field hitter.
“I don’t consider myself either or,” she said.
Breakthought effort for Chilton
“Either or” might also be a fitting description of who is Nixa’s ace. Chilton got the nod in the center circle ahead of fellow junior pitcher Paige Garetson.
Coach Matt Walker didn’t let them know who would pitch until they arrived at the field for warmups.
“That was probably better,” Chilton said. “I wasn’t as nervous that way. I probably would have worked myself up if I had known (earlier).
“I was excited coming into the game whether I started or not,” she added. “When I found out I was starting, I knew I was going to do my best.”
Chilton called it the best pitching performance of of her career, so far.
Chilton’s changeup had plenty of spin on it and she located it well by repeatedly placing it along the outside corner of the plate. Even when the Lady Tigers were able to connect on the change, they most often didn’t hit it hard.
“My change was working very good,” Chilton said. “A lot of the time it was keeping them off balance. I notice sometimes (hitters) swinging really early — it’s enjoyable seeing that.”
Ozark’s lone run came on a leadoff homer by third baseman Kelsie Batey.
Chilton kept center fielder Audrey Carlton in the ball park. She entered the game with eight home runs.
“I knew she’s been doing really well,” Chilton said. “I think I did well against her.”
Chilton is also among the Tenacity players and she counts some of the Lady Tigers as close friends.
“We enjoy playing against each other,” Chilton said. “It’s fun to see them do good. I love cheering on my (travel ball) teammates, even when they are on the opposite team
“We have bragging rights,” she added with a smile. “We will probably rub it in.”
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