COLUMBIA — As the pitch is delivered, Hickman’s infielders lean forward, inching slowly closer to the plate. Their eyes are fixed on the hitter. Their gloves wait anxiously, hovering barely above the ground.
It was that way all game in the Kewpies’ 3-2 extra inning loss to Jefferson City on Tuesday at Cosmopolitan Park. Hickman pitcher Riley Wilson threw all nine innings and gave up 16 hits, but thanks to a defense that snagged nearly everything that came its way, only three runs crossed the plate.
Senior Paige Nelson, who played a strong third base and also had three hits in the loss, described the defensive mentality Hickman (9-8) needs to stay sharp in a game like Tuesday’s.
“Riley’s not a strikeout pitcher, so we need to be ready when the ball comes at us. The mindset is definitely to know what to do before the ball is hit to us, and knowing that the ball is coming to me,” Nelson said. “You need to be ready for it all the time.”
It’s more complicated than that, though. At any given moment in the game, Nelson is thinking about and adjusting to all the different scenarios that the defense may be faced with.
“I think about whether the ball is hit hard or soft, if I have to charge it, how many runners there are or how fast the runners are,” Nelson said. “All of those things go through my head and change based on the situation.”
The infield, specifically, adapted to those situations admirably, turning three double plays during the game. That effort helped to support Wilson, who continually worked out of jams and found ways to escape innings unscathed.
“Riley is a trooper,” Nelson said. “She pitched really well tonight, probably one of the best games she’s ever pitched for Hickman. We’re really proud of her.”
Hickman coach Courtney Haskell commended Wilson for her ability to stay positive and work out of tough situations. She used one word to describe her sophomore pitcher: resilient.
“That’s Riley. I’m serious, that’s Riley,” Haskell said. “She could give up back-to-back-to-back home runs and she would still have the same demeanor on the mound. That’s how mentally tough she is, which gives your defense a lot of confidence when you have someone like that on the mound.”
Jefferson City (12-5) broke through in the ninth inning when outfielder Karson Bailey stroked a single into left field to bring in the deciding run.
After pitching complete games in back-to-back days, a heavy workload finally seemed to affect Wilson.
“It takes its toll on her,” Nelson said. “She pitched in our game last night too, so it definitely takes a toll. But she’s strong enough; she can handle it.”
When asked if she was ready to pitch another nine-inning game Wednesday, Wilson laughed quietly to herself.
“Not really,” Wilson said. “But I will if I have to.”