By NICK McQUEEN
Heading into Friday night's Jayhawk League series opener against the Derby Twins at Larks Park, the Hays Larks had blasted 48 home runs this summer.
The long ball has really provided a punch when the Larks struggled to produce early in ball games, a trend early in the summer.
To open the final three-game series of the season and a key stretch as the Larks hope to repeat as league champions, Hays did exactly the opposite in a 9-3 victory against the Twins.
The Larks found several gaps early, recorded seven hits -- but no homers -- through the first two innings and jumped out 6-0 on the Twins.
The game was called with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning when lightning and rain moved into the area.
"I liked our focus early," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "We came out and swung it well."
Hays (28-10 overall, 20-9 Jayhawk) posted five runs on six hits in the first inning against Derby starter Brantley Claunch. That included three straight hits to start the game by Jake Placzek, Ty Gilmore and Aaron Cornell. Cornell hit a two-RBI double to start the scoring, then Taylor Petersen had an RBI double and Zair Koeiman an RBI triple. Blair Beck followed later with a two-out RBI double to cap the inning.
"When you put one or two up, you feel pretty good," Leo said. "You put five up and that sends a message."
In the second, Clayton Garland flew out to left field to drive in another run, and Hays led 6-0, giving left-handed starter Chandler Hawkins a cushion for his fifth victory of the summer.
"Hawkins did a good job of throwing up zeroes after that," Leo said. "He wasn't as good as he was against Liberal last Sunday, but he minimized."
Hawkins (5-2) worked seven innings, threw seven strikeouts and had two walks. One walk, with the bases loaded in the fifth, scored the first run for Derby (15-19, 12-18).
"He got some balls elevated from about the third inning on and couldn't get back down in the zone," Leo said of Hawkins. "But, all in all, he gave us what we needed."
Hawkins allowed two runs in the seventh, on an RBI groundout and base hit, but recorded a strikeout and a fly out after the two runs. Ian Bentley recorded two outs in the eighth before the game was called.
Hays took an 8-1 lead in the fifth off Garland's fourth homer of the summer. He connected to deep right field on his second offering from Derby reliever Taylor Warkins. Hays scored one more run in the sixth on a passed ball.
Hays finished with 12 hits (four doubles, a triple and a homer).
"We hit the ball well," Leo said. "When you stay away from the long ball, it was good to see that.
"We've been relying a lot on the long ball to get us going," Leo added. "This was good to get doubles and put some balls in the gap, and there were really some loud hits."
Cornell was 3 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBIs, while Garland drove in three runs. Petersen and Placzek each finished 2 for 3.
The two teams were scheduled to meet again Saturday night, and wrap up the series with 7 p.m. game today. Nick Goza was slated to start Saturday night and newcomer Ross Vance, a West Virginia University signee by way of Dodge City Community College, gets the nod today.