By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- John Shinn, the San Diego Waves pitching coach, walked over to the Hays Larks shortly after Saturday's contest completed. He found Larks starting pitcher Kurt Wunderlich and offered praise for the right-hander.
"Son, you pitched a hell of a ball game," Shinn said.
Shinn's congratulations punctuated a complete game shutout for Wunderlich and a 5-0 Larks victory against the Waves in a losers' bracket contest at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in the 75th annual National Baseball Congress World Series.
On an afternoon where temperatures reached the upper 90s, Larks manager Frank Leo called Wunderlich's outing "without a doubt" the best by a Hays pitcher this season.
"Probably one of the best starts in the losers' bracket that we have had in a long time," Leo said.
Wunderlich became the fourth pitcher to throw a shutout in the first 42 NBC contests. Hays (29-15), moved to 2-1 in the NBC after a loss in the winner's bracket Friday night. They will play Monday in another elimination contest. Game time and opponent is undetermined.
"These guys came to play hard today," Leo said. "They came determined and now that they have got this one done with the day off (today), we should be a good frame of mind for the rest of the week."
Wunderlich, who started the summer in the bullpen and moved to rotation in mid-June because of a depleted staff, bumped his record to 6-0 after he allowed five hits and two walks against four strikeouts. Twelve of his 27 outs came from groundballs and he coaxed four double plays. Wunderlich, a Michigan State product, labeled the start his best "in college, for sure."
"Throwing a lot of changeups, sliders, bury a fastball in late," Wunderlich said. "They weren't adjusting to it that well, so we kept on mixing everything up, try to keep them guessing."
Wunderlich, who worked a complete game victory in his first start on June 13 against Liberal, and Andrew Heck (twice) are the lone Larks to work nine innings this season.
In addition, Wunderlich became the first Larks pitcher to throw a complete game shutout since Patrick Cooper in the first round of the NBC last season in a run-rule victory. Brad Hutt and Brock Nehls each tossed nine inning complete games in the 2007 NBC.
"Outstanding job by Kurt," Leo said. "He just gets hitters out in front. He changes speeds very well and he has command of four pitches and when you do that, hitters can't sit back on a fastball. You get a hitter out in front, you get a lot of ground balls. They are rolling over. Fantastic job of that. He saved his best performance for the right time."
Wunderlich became the fourth pitcher in Larks history to record at least six wins without a loss. He joined Tom Hottovy (7-0 in 2002), Sam Elam (7-0 in 2006) and Jim Popp (6-0 in 2001). Wunderlich ranks second on the squad to Heck with 641βΡ3 innings and lowered his earned-run average to 2.52.
"I wasn't looking to set any records," Wunderlich said. "It's nice to get six wins, but it's nice that the team is still in this thing."
Helped by Wunderlich, Hays is still playing.
The right-hander rarely faced any trouble. He worked around two second inning baserunners with an inning-ending forceout. Then, he finished the third with his first of four double plays. Andrew Irvine hit a looper up the middle. Shortstop Sean Wilson went back to edge of the turf, jumped and made the catch. He threw to first and doubled off Drake Fages.
The Larks scored three in the fourth and one in the fifth. Wilson led off the fourth with a double against Waves losing pitcher Vance Woodruff. After a walk and a strikeout, Rick Devereaux hit a two-run double to left. The hit would have just scored one run, but the ball skipped past left fielder Irvine and Rafael Valenzuela scored. After a forceout, Joe Huwer delivered a run-scoring single. In the fourth, Devereaux drove home his third run with a force play.
Second baseman Jason Morriss and Wilson ended the fourth with a double play, while Wunderlich finished the fifth when he caught a line drive and doubled Danny Poma off first.
"He pitched to contact and they caught the ball pretty well today," Shinn said.
"Today they were letter perfect. He threw it. We hit it and they caught it."
Wunderlich mainly worked a two-seam fastball away to left-handed batters and inside to right-handers. He worked sliders to right-handers and threw changeups "to a lot of lefties." The arsenal permitted just one runner to third base all game.
The defense helped Wunderlich in the sixth and seventh again. In the sixth, Wilson jumped high off the turf to catch a bouncer and Valenzuela made a diving catch in left field. Morriss and Wilson ended the seventh with another double play.
"Our infield, boy, those guys up the middle," Leo said. "They are fun to watch."
"Him and Jason were just turning double plays like crazy out there," Wunderlich added.
Leo and pitching coach Keith Harper warmed up Chase Barrera in the late innings, but kept Wunderlich in. After the final out, catcher Ollie Goulder ran to the mound and hugged Wunderlich. Shinn followed with his congratulations.
"He had a very quick eighth inning," Leo said. "We said, 'Let's let him ride.' He deserves it. He has been a bulldog all day long in that heat and he deserves to try to get a complete game without overdoing it. I thought he handled the heat very well and handled the circumstances."