By RANDY GONZALES
Manager Frank Leo made it clear Tuesday night that if the Larks go down, they will go down fighting.
In Hays' 6-5 loss to Liberal in Jayhawk League action at Larks Park, a close call didn't go the Larks' way in the sixth, blunting a possible big inning. Leo gave the home plate umpire an earful after sprinting to home plate from the third base coach's box.
"If I don't say anything there, I'm telling my kids I'm giving up," said Leo, whose club is still hoping to receive a berth in the National Baseball Congress World Series. "I'm not giving up on this ball club. These kids have been fighting hard all summer. We're sitting on the outside looking in trying to get into the NBC."
The NBC World Series starts Friday in Wichita, and Hays still doesn't know if it will make the 32-team field.
"What happens, happens," Leo said. "Yeah, it's hard (not knowing), but we've got to put that on the back burner. It's lingering there. We don't know; we're in limbo."
But the NBC scenarios are not the Larks' problem right now. Their bullpen is the problem, as it has been for most of the season, Leo said.
Hays starter Levi Schlick pitched shutout ball and had a 4-0 lead before tiring in the sixth. Schlick allowed two runs in the inning before leaving with two outs and a runner on second. Joe Perez greeted reliever Larry Rodriguez with a two-run homer over the wall in left-center to tie the game.
Hays (20-17 overall, 16-15 Jayhawk) got a run in the sixth to take the lead. The Larks might have had a big inning, if not for losing a runner at the plate. Brian Martin singled to lead off the sixth and tried to score from first on Cam Brown's double into the left-field corner. The relay throw cut down Martin in a close play at the plate that had Leo doing his best Bobby Cox impersonation.
"Obviously, I thought he was safe," Leo said. "But I don't make the call; the umpire does.
"Just fighting for my kids. My kids are playing hard out there. I'm going to fight for the kids. That's not a sign of frustration," he added.
Hays did get the go-ahead run in the inning on an RBI single from Cody Gougler, but Rodriguez (0-1) quickly gave the lead back. He allowed a leadoff double in the seventh, then served up a two-out, two-run homer to cleanup man Joe Vaskas, as Liberal (31-12, 22-11) took its first lead of the game.
It wasn't the first time this season Leo has seen his team lose a lead.
"You watch us all summer, that's the M.O.," he said.
Hays scored four runs in the second off Liberal starter Jamey Bradshaw. The Larks got RBI singles from Gougler, Zak Leonhardt and Elvin Rodriguez and a run-scoring groundout from Brandon Eckerle.
Reliever Travis Parker got the win for the Bee Jays, and Thomas Cruz got the final three outs for a save.
Hays ends the regular season tonight at 7 at Larks Park against Dodge City. Depending on what happens with the NBC, it could be the Larks' last game of the summer. Right-hander Cory Jordan (1-2) is the probable starter.
"We'll give it our best shot tomorrow and try to finish on a good note," Leo said. "What happens, happens."