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Larks stay alive, move into semifinals





WICHITA -- The Hays Larks batters collectively made the decision to not take part in batting practice before their National Baseball Congress World Series elimination game against the Haysville Aviators on Thursday. It was a choice left fielder Aaron Cornell felt led to a slow start at the plate.

"We decided to take the day off and not take BP before the game. I think that might have had something to do with it -- us coming out flat with the sticks," Cornell said. "I guess after we got a couple swings in, a couple rounds into the game, we started figuring it out. I think that might have been a big cause, so I think (today) we are going to go ahead and take a little BP."

Hays was held to five hits and two runs through seven innings and trailed 3-2 entering the eighth. Then an onslaught of hits led to the Larks' 7-3 win at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

The win moves Hays into today's tournament semifinals.

The Larks will play the Seattle Studs at 8:30 p.m. in Wichita for a spot in Saturday's championship game against the winner of today's early game between Santa Barbara (Calif.) and the NJCAA National Team. Hays defeated Seattle, 4-1, earlier in the week.

"It means a lot. It's a grind all summer. It started back in June, July, when we were struggling then," Cornell said of Thursday's win. "(Wednesday) night, it's in the past and you can't look at it. It sucked. We would have liked to been on the winner's side of this, but you got to do what you got to do. I'm excited just to live another day."

Trailing 3-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning against Haysville, the Larks started their rally with a triple from designated hitter Ty Detmer to open the frame. A single by first baseman Derek Birginske during the next at-bat scored Detmer and tied the game.

Second baseman Zair Koeiman followed with a double to center field, allowing Birginske to advance to third base. Catcher Tyler Albert was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Cornell with no outs in the 3-3 deadlock.

"We were thinking about pinch hitting for Ty Albert before the inning started. ... When we got it tied up, we decided to stay with him. We tried the safety squeeze; they hit him. The flow of the game started working in our favor at that point," Larks manager Frank Leo said.

"We had some great ABs tonight to get the pitch count up. Then, when it counted, we really beared down. Aaron Cornell, back for his fourth year ... he's a veteran. He put us on his shoulders there and got the big hit."

Cornell took advantage of the situation by driving the ball into deep center, dropping the ball in over the outstretched hands of the Haysville outfielder. The end result was a three-RBI triple, giving Hays a 6-3 lead.

Derrick Mount, who had just replaced third baseman Brooks Balisterri that inning, followed with a sacrifice-fly for the first out, allowing Cornell to tag and score for the fifth and final Larks' run of the inning.

"I was so pumped up after they took the lead. I was happy for them all and was glad I had my team behind me to pick me up," said Hays' starting pitcher Nick Goza. "I felt good all through the game. I made one mistake in my last inning, but I'm thankful to have my batters behind me. They picked me up."

Goza was the reason the Larks were able to say close with Haysville despite their offensive struggles through the first two-thirds of the game. The Lark veteran went 6.2 innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs to go with one walk and eight strikeouts.

He allowed the game's first run in the top of the third inning on a RBI single, and was credited for allowing two more in the seventh inning, the first off a RBI double that resulted in him being replaced by reliever Ian Bentley. Bentley only saw three batters before being replaced by D.J. Carr early in the eighth inning.

Carr (2-1) was awarded the win, allowing no runs and no hits over the final two innings.

"Our pitching staff is great. We've said it all year; we got some of the best pitchers, I think, in this tournament," Cornell said. "They go out and give good innings and shut some guys down in key situations. Our bullpen is amazing. Keep getting good starts; five, six inning starts from our starters. I think that's huge for us. Keeps us going and gave us time to get going today."

Cornell led the offense, going 2 for 4 with four RBI and one run. Koeiman was 2 for 3 with two runs and one RBI, and Birginske 2 for 3 with one run and one RBI.

Jake Fromson (5-3) is expected to get the start tonight against Seattle.