Instead of getting riled up and out of sorts, Rylan Evans stayed relatively relaxed and in the strike zone.
Evans gave Nixa every chance to come back from a seven-run, third-inning deficit Thursday by throwing five shutout innings of relief and the Eagles indeed rallied for an 8-7, eight-inning COC triumph against Webb City.
A couple innings into Evans’ spectacular stint, a Cardinals coach made a query to the home-plate umpire regarding Evans’ wrist band.
“The coach was pointing to my wrist band and said I was going to my wrist band every time I threw my slider,” Evans said. “I just kind of laughed it off. I never touched my wrist band.”
Ultimately, Evans took it as a compliment that Webb City thought his pitches had so much movement that he was using “sticky stuff,” as he put it.
“That was a big confidence boost for me,” the senior right-hander said. “It made my adrenaline go up and the slider got even better, honestly.”
It helped that Evans was able to chat with his father, Janssen, in between innings. Janssen, who was a pitcher himself as a prep at Greenfield and in college at Central Missouri State, stressed for Rylan to keep his composure.
“I go to my Dad a lot and in big moments he always keeps me in check,” Rylan said. “I grew up playing catch with him in the back yard. I like to be up and energetic. He's always there to keep me composed.”
Evans entered the game in the top of the fourth inning, with Nixa trailing 7-2. The Eagles (15-3 overall and 2-1 in the COC) had spotted Webb City (11-7 and 4-1) a 7-0 lead.
Evans allowed Nixa to continue to chip away.
“He was incredible,” coach Logan Hughes said. “He’s got that fire and passion inside of him. When he starts to feel good about himself, he’s really good.”
Evans normally works out of the bullpen as Nixa’s closer. He threw enough Thursday that he won’t be available for the Eagles’ games Friday and Saturday, but it was obviously worthwhile.
“This was an important game to win,” Evans said. “We'd been missing that fight, but we got it back. My arm feels great. I'm glad I was able to pick up (starter Collin) Kelly and help our team.”
Evans went to his slider repeatedly.
“I'm always big on my slider. I think it's my best pitch,” he said. “I worked all last summer and all fall on it, tinkering with it and trying to locate it. It's only effective because I can locate my two-seam (fastball). It's hard to differentiate between the two. They play well off of each other.”
Likewise, the top and bottom parts of Nixa’s batting order fed off of each other. The Eagles’ Nos. 5-9 hitters combined for five hits and five runs, while the Nos. 1-4 hitters teamed for four hits and four RBIs.
Broden Mabe, batting eighth, was 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs, while Collin Ussery, batting ninth, was 1-for-2 with a walk, a hit, a hit by pitch and a run.
"They did awesome getting on base,” Hughes said. “(Mason) Eagleburger had good plate appearances, Ussery had some big at-bats and Mabe got on base several times. When you can turn the lineup over to the top of your lineup with guys on base, you're going to have a lot of opportunities to score.
First baseman Tanner Grant was out with the flu.
Rylan Michel started the Nixa rally with a two-run home run in the third.
Until Michel’s homer, the Eagles had been outscored 20-3 over a 16-inning-plus stretch that included their losses to Fayetteville, Arkansas, last Friday and Willard on Tuesday.
“We weren’t playing well,” Hughes said. “We weren’t competitive enough early in the count on the mound, so we fell behind a lot. When you're pitching behind all the time, it's hard to pitch because you have to throw perfect pitches and guys are free-swinging in the box.
“At the plate, we were playing defense in the box and not attacking enough early in the count,” he added. “(Michel’s) homer fueled us. The guys decided to attack the game more.”
Webb City aided the Eagles during their two-run seventh with several wild pitches, an error at the plate and an RBI-single by Caeden Cloud that Webb City’s third baseman lost in the sun.
In the eighth, Reese Dirnberger reached on an error and advanced to second and third on more wild pitches. With one out and the bases loaded, Wyatt Vincent capped the Nixa comeback by delivering a sacrifice fly to right that scored Dirnberger.
"I got in the box and was thinking I needed to hit it to the outfield and that's exactly what happened,” Vincent said. “He threw it high and outside. That was the pitch I was looking for. He threw it right where I wanted it. I closed my stance because I was trying to hit it to right. I didn't hit it square. I was under it. But I made it work, so I’m not going to complain.
"I wasn't trying to do too much, just score the runner,” he added. “Coach has really input that into our program, ‘Don't try to do too much, just do what you know how to do.’”
Vincent marveled at the ups and downs of the game. He got off to an inauspicious start during Webb City’s three-run first by diving for a ball that was out of his range and turning a single into a triple.
Not deterred, he went on to go 2-for-4 and was mobbed by teammates after his walk-off RBI.
“Baseball is a funny game. It doesn't always go the way you want it to,” Vincent said. “But at the end it turns out how it's supposed to be.”