Larks beat Twins, alone in second place
By NICK McQUEEN
By NICK McQUEEN
From the Day 1 roster, the Hays Larks have lost nine guys through the season to injury. And one more due to a death in his family.
And some that remain are playing through some bumps and bruises.
So saying the Larks could use a week off prior to beginning play in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita might be a bit of an understatement.
The Larks’ situation just magnifies the importance of this weekend’s Jayhawk League series with the Derby Twins at Larks Park.
Hays got it started the right way Friday night. The Larks hung on to win a suspended game from June 22, 7-6, then jumped out early for a 10-3 win in the teams’ regularly-scheduled series opener at Larks Park.
“We just have to take it one game at a time and not really look at the big picture right now,” said Hays manager Frank Leo. “We have to take our time, and see where it takes us. It was a nice two wins tonight.”
The two teams were scheduled to meet again Saturday night, and will close the series at 7 p.m. today.
With the two wins, Hays was 1.5 games up for the second spot in the league. The top two teams — league champ Wellington and likely either Hays (23-13 overall, 17-13 JL) or Derby (22-15, 15-14) — advance to the Championship Week of the National Baseball Congress World Series. The third- and fourth-place teams have to play in the tournament’s first week bracket.
After Friday, Liberal led El Dorado by a half game for fourth place, 4.5 games out of third.
Given the injuries on the current roster, and the number of players Hays has lost to injury — most recently Kevin Czarnecki and Cooper Langley — a week off to get healthy would be just what the doctor ordered if Hays hopes for a deep tournament run.
“We’ve lost 10 players since the start of the year roster. The position we’re in is a credit to these guys, and how they’ve battled and tried to piece things together,” Leo said. “They’ve responded, and they will have to keep responding.”
Friday’s start was just about everything the Larks could have hoped for. The suspended game began with Hays leading 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth inning. Derby had two outs and a runner on first, and a 3-2 count at the plate. To start Friday, D.J. Carr threw a ball on the first pitch and walked the batter to put runners at first and second. Then he got the Twins’ Tyler Eager to ground out to first.
“That’s a tough spot, 7-6, 3-2 count,” Leo said. “To get through that inning and maintain that lead was big. It’s kind of one of those situations where you’ve got the gun to your head and you’ve got to throw a strike. He came back and got the out.”
Derek Birginske ended up pitching the eighth and ninth for the save, his first of the season. The win went to Spencer Applebach, who pitched one inning of relief on June 22.
“That was big momentum to hang on and get that win,” Leo said. “It might be the longest time frame to get a win (26 days), but we got the ‘W.’ ”
Then the Larks responded big in the regularly-scheduled opener. Backing up the longest start this season for Kansas State’s Jake Fromson, the Larks jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings. Ty Detmer and Birginske each doubled in a run in the first, then Zair Koeiman had a two-run home run that put the Larks up 4-0 after one. Then Derrick Mount advanced to third on a wild pitch, and stole home in the second on the same play for the 5-0 lead.
Fromson (3-3), who traditionally had pitched just five innings (or less) in his previous six starts, took a shutout into the seventh with the Larks leading 7-0. He struck out three with no walks in that time.
Then he gave up a solo home run to lead off the seventh that sparked a three-run inning for the Twins.
“Fromson gave us a great start,” Leo said. “We had a long bottom of the sixth, and he just sort of lost it a little bit. David Koll came in and did a great job.”
The Twins got three runs on seven hits off Fromson. Koll and Ethan Landon combined for 2.1 innings of hitless relief.
Birginske added a solo home run to lead off the Larks’ seventh, and Hays pulled away again with three runs. Birginske finished 2 for 5 with two runs scored and two driven in. Koeiman was 3 for 4 with three runs scored and two driven in.
Nick Goza was due up to start Saturday’s game, and Blake Roley is slated for today’s finale. After today, Hays has two league games remaining with Dodge City, and two non-league games against Junction City.
Leo confirmed Langley and Czarnecki will not return due to injury. … In the seventh inning, Tyler Leffler went down with a shoulder injury while batting. The early indication was a pinched nerve, but Leo thought he might be ready for Saturday night’s game. …Evan Gruener and Michael Burns are playing through injury. …Leo also announced two new players likely would join the team this weekend. Brooks Balisterri, a sophomore from Meridian Community College is supposed to be in for today’s game, and Wichita’s Thomas Clay, a junior from Houston Baptist, was scheduled to arrive in time for Saturday night’s contest.