The young Lady Tigers softball team did a lot of growing up in their district quarterfinal, but Nixa’s veteran squad found a way to win, advancing with a walk-off 2-1 victory in Springfield Tuesday. The Nixa win ended Republic’s season, but not before they showed a flash of their future promise by going toe-to-toe with the 25-6 Eagles.
“We just proved we belong tonight,” said coach Lee Dishman.
In a game that could have gone either way, it was fitting that the game-winning base hit by Nixa senior Phoebe Gardner was a bloop single that landed on the foul line. That allowed the winning run to score and left the Lady Tigers watching in disbelief.
But even in allowing the winning run, Dishman pitched one of her best games of the season against some of the best competition Republic has faced this year. With one out in the seventh, Dishman had battled Nixa’s Lily Wooten through an 18-pitch at-bat before issuing a walk that eventually turned into the winning run.
“Piper kept challenging her and challenging her, and hats off to her,” Lee Dishman said. “She just kept fouling off pitches, and we even flipped the change-up in there, and the girl was in front and just nicked it. It was a walk, but it was a great battle between pitcher and hitter.”
Before that, Dishman had avoided mistakes and shut down Nixa’s lineup for most of the night. She had given up 10 runs in a previous outing against the Eagles. The defense also played almost flawlessly behind her.
“I watched Piper grow up in the circle and compete against a veteran team. She gave them all they wanted. I’m a proud dad and I’m a proud coach tonight,” Lee Dishman said.
In addition to Dishman’s standout performance in the circle, the defense played one of its best games of the season.
“We made some great defensive plays. We hit the ball early, then their pitcher kind of settled in and we struggled,” Dishman said. Maddy Meierer was the winning pitcher for Nixa, working seven innings and striking out seven.
Republic grabbed an early lead in the top of the second inning. Jenna Belcher smashed a double off the top of the fence in right field, then came in to score on an error to put Republic ahead 1-0.
Nixa tied the game in the bottom of the fourth after a hit batter and a softly hit single to right put a runner on third base, allowing a run to score on a wild pitch. Nixa put runners in scoring position in the fifth inning but Dishman pitched out of trouble.
In the top of the sixth, Republic left a runner at third base. In the bottom of the inning, Jenna Belcher made a diving catch on an infield blooper and EmmaLee Essary tracked down a foul ball as she ran into the dugout to keep the game scoreless.
The Lady Tigers managed just four base hits — one each by Belcher, Essary, Annabelle Gerhardt-Hobbs, and Lilli Richerson. Nixa had only three hits off Dishman, who allowed two runs, struck out six and walked two.
Republic ends its season with a 16-13 record, and it was the last game for Essary, Republic’s only senior. Dishman said he told his team to continue to work and not take future success for granted.
“Work your tails off and get better, and we’ll be back next year,” he said. “The good thing is that 21 of the 22 return for next year.”