Branson third baseman Skyler Harris (5) hauls in a pop fly while colliding with shortstop Zach Johnston during the Pirates’ loss to Nixa on Saturday afternoon.

Playing against a powerful Nixa team with a stacked lineup full of talented returnees, the last thing the Branson baseball team could afford was to beat itself.

That’s what happened to the Pirates in the season opener on Saturday afternoon at Pirate Field, in a 10-0, five-inning loss to the Eagles.

“Any team on our schedule, you’ve got to come ready to play,” Branson coach Troy Nimmo said.

Branson pitching issued seven walks and hit two batters, in addition to 11 hits for the Eagles.

“You mix in those free walks with hits, they aren’t doubles, they are RBIs,” Nimmo said. “You can’t give free bases to a good-hitting team, which I knew they were coming in, with the kids they have coming back.”

Nixa drew two first-inning walks and stranded both runners, and stranded the bases loaded after two more walks and three hits led to a two-run second inning.

The Eagles took control with a five-run third inning, with two walks, two hit-batsmen and three hits doing much of the damage.

Payton Hannah had an RBI single in the second and drove in two runs in the third with another sharp singe. Jordan Hall had a two-run double in the third, with Brett Hammitt adding an RBI hit in the third.

Hammitt, who has signed to continue his career at the University of Nebraska, put an exclamation point on the victory with a long home run over the left-center field fence in the fifth.

Branson’s pitchers had trouble throwing strikes early in the counts, leading to trouble as they worked from behind in the count.

“When you get behind in the count, it’s easier for hitters to sit fastball and tee off on it,” Nimmo said. 

On the other side, Branson’s hitters had trouble against Nixa starter Kinsen Michel.

Michel went four innings, giving up two hits. Logan Porter led off the second inning with a double to left field but was stranded. Sam Lemley led off the third with a single and stole second, but was cut down on a sacrifice bunt attempt.

Reece Chaisson led off the fifth with a single against reliever Isaac Mitchell and was sacrificed to second base, but was stranded.

“(Michel) has a good fastball, and we were taking that pitch for a strike, making ourselves be in an offspeed count, and forcing us to hit the curveball,” Nimmo said.

“Nobody likes hitting curveballs, major league players don’t like to hit curveballs. You’ve got to jump the fastball, and we didn’t. We took too many fastballs and put us in bad-hitting counts.”

Saturday’s game was only the start of a busy opening stretch for the Pirates, who played Republic on Monday and Webb City on Tuesday. The week will continue with home games against Carl Junction on Thursday, then against Columbia Hickman and West Plains on Saturday.

“If you let one game dictate your season, you’re in trouble,” Nimmo said. “We’ll lick our wounds and come back Monday and hopefully it will be a different game. 

“It can be, baseball can change in a heartbeat.”

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