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'Big boy' boosts Larks to win

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Only one run crossed home plate against Hays Larks closer Derek Birginske on Tuesday against Liberal at Larks Park, a game-tying RBI single in the top of the ninth inning. But he wasn't about to let that ruin what otherwise had been a big night for the Arkansas State University product.

After the Larks opened with two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth, Birginske knocked a shot into the outfield for a double. A batter later, shortstop Zair Koeiman connected on a pitch, and a throwing error by the Liberal third baseman toward first base allowed Birginske to score, giving the Larks a much-needed 6-5 win over the Bee Jays.

"I was just trying to have a good at-bat. Just trying to get on base for my guys. Find the gap and run hard," Birginske said. "It's really good. I hope it can jump-start us for more wins in the future. We really need that. We were kind of struggling and really needed that win."

The win snapped a two-game skid for Hays (17-11, 13-11 Jayhawk League), both coming on the road at Liberal during the weekend. Birginske earned his first win for the Larks, allowing two hits and the run in the final three innings.

Birginske made an even greater impact at the plate, a pair of home runs igniting what had been a slow start for the Larks. He finished 3 for 4, with three runs scored and three RBI.

"When the big boy hits it, he hits it. He has no cheap hits, either. That double in the last inning -- what an at-bat," Larks manager Frank Leo said of Birginske. "Our plan initially was to use Birginske (Wednesday), but the way the flow of this game went, we felt it was our best bet to get him out there. Maybe you do something different with two outs in the ninth, but the big boy's been hot. He's been carrying us offensively. He was feeling it; we ran with him."

The Larks trailed 4-0 after three-and-a-half innings, strong at-bats allowing Liberal to get eight early hits off Hays starter Ian Bentley. Spencer Applebach stepped in for Bentley to begin the fourth and allowed two quick runs before settling down.

Needing something to spark their offense, the Larks got it in the bottom of the fourth inning when Birginske opened the frame with his fourth home run of the season to get Hays on the board, 4-1.

The real offensive explosion came in the fifth inning for Hays. Left fielder Aaron Cornell's RBI double scored center fielder Nate Olinger to make it 4-2, which quickly was followed by an RBI triple from shortstop Tyler Leffler to score Cornell, all before the first out was recorded. Two batters after Leffler's triple, Birginske hit home run No. 5 on the year, a two-RBI shot that gave the Larks a 5-4 lead after five innings.

"You got to credit our guys. That game didn't start very well for us. Coming off two losses down there, our guys could have went in the tank," Leo said. "Pretty proud of that effort to come back and get it done. Hats off to our bullpen, starting with Applebach. Shaky first inning, but then he got out of a jam and got us another inning."

The one-run Larks' lead held until the top of the ninth inning. Zach Hoffman's RBI single off Birginske tied the game. The run came after Liberal had hit into back-to-back groundouts to begin the inning.

Liberal also got two easy outs to begin the bottom of the ninth before Birginske's double and Koeiman's hit ended the game.

"We got two easy outs in the top half; they got two easy outs in the bottom half. As Yogi (Berra) says, 'It ain't over until it's over,' " Leo said.

"I think we are feeling a little monkey on our back. We talked about it before the start of the game, to get that monkey off. Let's play relaxed baseball, confident baseball, like we were early in the year. And let's see how far we can take it. We got two weeks left in the season. Let's give it a shot for two weeks and see if we can find that flow and get back into that magic touch."

The Larks and Liberal (16-14, 10-14) were set to play again at 7 p.m. today at Larks Park, their final regular season meeting.