Kickapoo pitcher Kaleb Schmidt spent the winter thinking about the Chiefs’ third place finish in the state playoffs in 2015.
The righty signed to pitch for the University of Central Arkansas also worked on building up the speed on his fastball. The work showed in Kickapoo’s 2-1 home win over Ozark (2-2) Tuesday afternoon in a pitcher’s duel between Schmidt and Ozark right-hander Tanner Wallace.
Schmidt pitched six innings and allowed one earned run on two hits. He struck out nine batters, walked three and recorded one hit batsman.
“We’ve been going hard and that’s one thing I really wanted to do is get my fastball better, especially going to the next level next year,” Schmidt said. “We played in the state tournament and those guys were throwing 90, 91 (miles per hour) consistently.”
An 8-7 loss to eventual Class 5 state champion Christian Brothers College interrupted a run through the playoffs for the 2015 Chiefs. Schmidt says the experience inspired him to add velocity, and that it also changed his attitude.
“It changed the perspective. We know what we have to do to get there, and as a team it’s all about buy in. You buy in to what the coaches are preaching to us, and at the end of the day you’ll be there,” Schmidt said.
With a steady crosswind blowing from right field to left, Kickapoo (4-2) batters managed six hits. Senior shortstop Preston Keisker went 1-for-2 with a double, an RBI and a walk, and senior center fielder Riley Herron was 1-for-3 with what proved to be the game-winning RBI single in the fifth inning that allowed Keisker to score the winning run from second base.
Chiefs coach Jason Howser noted that his team stranded six runners in scoring position.
“We didn’t support (Schmidt) real well today offensively, but I’m for certain we left a small reservation on base today,” Howser said.
Schmidt’s pitch count climbed to 93, but Howser stuck with the senior ace through the sixth inning, even when Ozark put two runners in scoring position.
“Ozark did a nice job of keeping us off balance and they competed. I mean they had runners in scoring position left and right as well and they were looking for a big hit,” Howser said. “We rely on (Schmidt) and he knows it, but the bigger the game, the bigger the setting he tends to pitch well.”
Wallace allowed two earned runs on seven hits in four and two-thirds innings. He logged five strikeouts.
“(Wallace) held, in my opinion, the best team in southwest Missouri to two runs,” Tigers coach Mike Essick said. “I thought our pitching was good, our defense was good, we’re just going to have to start squaring some balls up.”
Even with good defense, Ozark struggled to string together hits against Schmidt.
“Every one of (Schmidt’s) pitches moves and he’s so confident,” Essick said. “When you start anticipating, he’s got you.”
Junior Adam Link pitched the seventh inning and struck out one batter. He picked up the save for Kickapoo.
Howser was happy with Kickapoo’s display of mental toughness in a low-scoring game that lasted two hours and seven minutes.
“We tend to play slow. Especially when pitching dominates the game, you’d think it would go a little bit quicker than that. In the same respect, I was proud of the team as far as that goes of hanging in there and doing just enough,” Howser said.
Kickapoo, the No. 4-ranked Class 5 team in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association state rankings, plays its next game Thursday at 7 p.m. as part of the Glendale Red and Blue Classic.
Ozark goes on the road Friday to play Rogers, Arkansas at 4:30 p.m. Essick hopes the Tigers will find their swing in the batter’s box.
“We’ve got to have better at bats and just quality at bats,” Essick said. “You’re not always going to be able to control where it goes, but you should be able to put a good swing on it and hit the ball hard, and we’ve yet to do that against good pitching.”