By NICK McQUEEN
WICHITA — Playing in several showcases in high school, Hays Larks starter Joey Begel is no stranger to what it felt like as a teenager playing on the big stage.
He kept that in mind a little bit when pitching Wednesday against the Wichita Prospects, a team primarily made up of high school seniors-to-be, most of whom have either committed, or will commit, to play at the collegiate level.
“It's a little harder to pitch against them,” he said. “It's kind of tough to pitch against younger competition. I've always been used to wanting to pitch better against higher competition.”
Aside from putting a few more balls in play than he normally would like, though, it was business as usual for Begel in a 3-2 Larks' win in the elimination round of the NBC World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
After battling some early-game illness, the University of Illinois-Chicago right-hander threw his second complete game of the summer, retiring 17 of the final 18 batters, while facing the minimum in that span with a double-play ball in the sixth inning. He also moved quickly in a contest that lasted just 1 hour, 25 minutes.
“About the fourth or fifth inning, that's when I felt like I could actually make the rotation and get my mechanics down,” Begel said. “I just pitched down in the zone and let them get themselves out.
“I remember what it was like to be younger,” he added. “That was the case today.”
The Prospects plated a run in each of the second and third innings, the second coming after two Larks errors in the third. But, Begel shut it down after that.
“He's been pounding the strike zone,” Larks manager Frank Leo said of Begel, one of two Larks now to have throw a complete game in two outings thus far at the NBC. “We need a guy to do that and not let anyone build momentum against you.
“(Begel) put us on his shoulders today,” Leo added.
The Larks were facing elimination after losing in the first round Monday for the first time since 2000. In Monday's game, though, the
Larks got a complete-game, solid outing from Justin Ziegler.
Hays will throw left-hander Shawn Lewick in Friday's elimination game, and Leo knows his staff is seasoned enough for Hays to make a run. The big concern for Leo, though, is in two games, Hays has posted just four runs after averaging nearly seven per contest all summer. Hays also has committed five errors combined in the same two games.
“In the heat of the day, you're going to see games like that were the hitters are a little sluggish,” Leo said. “We have to figure out ways to score runs.
“We were doing what we needed to do (Wednesday),” he added. “We weren't going to wait for the big hit.”
A fourth-inning hit by catcher Todd Reller, added to the roster in late July, was big enough for now. Austin Darby led off the inning with a single, the Larks' third hit of the game, and Ryan Busboom drew a walk. Three batters later, Reller sent an 0-1 pitch into the gap to tie the game at two. The Larks had loaded the bases in the second inning, but a diving catch and unassisted double play by
Prospects second baseman Max Hagan ended the threat.
“That was huge,” Leo said of Reller's fourth-inning hit. “We needed to cash in that inning and bet on the board, because we missed a good opportunity with the bases loaded.”
Hays got just one more hit in the contest, when Aaron Cornell led off the fifth with a single, but later scored the go-ahead run on a groundout by Darby.
“We had to force the action a little bit and we just got enough,” Leo said. “The offense has to find the switch. We know it's there, we've seen it all summer.
“We haven't used much of it yet, so hopefully we have a lot in the tank and can turn that loose,” he added.
Darby finished 1 for 4 with the RBI, and Reller was 1 for 3 with the two driven in.
Hays will play Friday against the loser of Thursday's game between Jayhawk League runner-up Dodge City and Newton.
Lewick (2-0 with a 1.37 earned-run average) will make his first appearance with the Larks since taking a no-decision in a 2-1 10-inning loss against Derby in Jayhawk League play. Lewick had a one-game stint in Wichita after being signed by the Wichita Wingnuts. He took a 9-1 loss, allowing nine earned runs on 11 hits against Winnepeg. …Veteran Lark Jon Ryan started Wednesday's game at DH, but was later pulled for Tito Andino. Ryan has been struggling with back issues all summer, and Leo said they will protect him as much as they can. … Jayhawk League member Liberal suffered its first loss in the tourney Wednesday night, falling 4-3 to the Hutchinson Monarchs. The Bee Jays next will play Saturday. Haysville, El Dorado and Dodge City all play Thursday in the second round of the championship bracket.