By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

The Hays Larks were offered a berth in the National Baseball Congress World Series on Sunday afternoon.

Just one problem: no players.

Hays manager Frank Leo received a call from NBC tournament director Jerry Taylor, asking him if his club could fill a vacancy after the Fairbanks (Alaska) Goldpanners pulled out of the tournament earlier in the day.

"I said, "Jerry, my guys are all gone,' " Leo said.

The Larks, who finished 17-15 in the Jayhawk League and 21-17 overall, didn't qualify for a spot in the 32-team field. But Leo said Taylor told him Hays would get the first chance to fill out the bracket if a team didn't show up in Wichita.

It was just too late.

Leo called the NBC on Thursday to see if the Larks were in the field. When he found out they weren't, Leo released his players to go home.

With Hays unable to go, the Wichita Elite Sluggers were added to the bracket.

The Larks finished third in the Jayhawk League race; the top two teams receive berths. But Haysville, which won the league and also another berth by winning the NBC Midwest Regional, had the option of taking either bid. The Heat chose the league bid. If Haysville had taken the regional bid, then the Jayhawk bids would have gone to the second- and third-place teams -- and Hays would be in the field. Instead, Derby (20-23 overall 11-20 Jayhawk), fifth place in the league but runner-up at the regional, goes to Wichita. Hays did not play in the regional.

"It's just very disappointing," Leo said. "You got a quality Jayhwak team finish third that should be in it."

With the tourney shrunk in size this year, Leo has a problem with an 18-under Hap Dumont team in the field.

"It's a 32-team tournament; there shouldn't be an 18-under team in the tournament," Leo said. "It's a collegiate tournament."

Leo also thinks a team shouldn't be allowed to decide if another team does -- or doesn't -- make the field, as was the case this year, when Haysville's decision affected Hays and Derby.

"They did get another league team in, but not the three best teams in," Leo said. "We deserve to be in it as much as they (Derby) do."

Instead, Hays won't be in the NBC field for the first time since 1991, when all of the Jayhawk teams went to a tournament in Amarillo, Texas, instead of going to Wichita.

This weekend, Leo was at the lake with his grandchildren. He said he won't be going to Wichita merely to watch.

"I'm trying to put it all behind me," Leo said.