By NICK McQUEEN
After a 7-0 start, two bad innings have taken a bit of wind out of the sails -- for the time being -- for the Hays Larks.
Those two bad innings have cost Hays in back-to-back losses, the most recent coming Tuesday night in Hays' first home Jayhawk League contest at Larks Park.
Returning from a five-game road trip, the Larks had a 3-0 lead heading into the eighth inning when Liberal capitalized on five errors -- four with two outs -- to rally for a 6-4 win.
"Today, it was defense," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "We have to make those plays.
"This is the Jayhawk League, and if you are going to win, you have to make plays and we didn't do that tonight."
Liberal (5-4 overall, 4-3 Jayhawk) scored all six of its runs (all unearned) with two outs in the eighth, nearly a mirror image of what happened to the Larks in El Dorado on Sunday, when the Broncos posted 11 runs in the eighth after trailing 4-0.
Only this time, it was Hays' defense being the determining factor, rather than a run of tough luck.
"It was some different circumstances. We had some groundballs that found holes (in El Dorado)," Leo said.
"We didn't make errors down there. Tonight at home, we made the errors on the turf and we can't do that."
Caleb Hawkins (0-1) took the loss in relief.
After striking out his first two batters faced -- one in the seventh and the first batter in the eighth -- Hawkins and the Hays defense gave up a baserunner in the form of Liberal's Tyler Baker, who reached on a fielding error by Ryan Busboom at first base. Then Hawkins recorded another strikeout. From there, things went downward for the Larks.
Liberal's Stephen Gandy reached on another error, this time at third base, to put runners at first and second. An error by Larks second baseman Zair Koeiman allowed one run to score. His throw to first base got past Busboom.
"We had two key errors earlier and miscommunication on the fly ball, and a little over-aggressiveness by Zair on the play over to first base," Leo said. "It snowballed, and we have to learn how to finish."
In the next at bat, Liberal's Ryan Schilhab tied the game with a two-RBI single. An error by Larks catcher Brett Lang allowed Liberal to score the go-ahead after a walk by Colton Reavis in relief of Hawkins, and another error. The go-ahead run came after Austin Darby misjudged a fly ball to right field.
Hawkins took the loss in a full inning pitched through the seventh and eighth.
"Caleb is a ground-ball guy, and when the ball is put in play we have to make outs," Leo said. "He's not a strikeout guy, so we have to get those outs when it's put in play."
The Larks did load the bases in the ninth against Liberal reliever John Branum. Koeiman led off the inning with a walk, and Claudio Valencia singled. Then Aaron Cornell had an RBI on a Liberal error. A strikeout, though, by Handel and a groundout by Betcher ended the game.
"It's a long season, and these guys are going to have to learn how to live with some adversity," Leo said. "We didn't do that tonight. We kept letting it snowball."
The start, though, was the high note for the Larks.
Hays (7-2, 4-2) posted three runs through the first three innings, the first coming on sacrifice fly by Koeiman, the other two on RBIs in the third by Mackenzie Handel and Joe Betcher. Handel legged out an RBI-triple to right field.
It was Handel's team-leading eighth RBI of the season. Valencia finished with two of the Larks' five hits.
Jake McDavid made his first start for the Larks, pitching 42âŃ3 scoreless innings. He allowed one Liberal hit with a strikeout, three walks and a hit batter. Blake Johnston also pitched.
The two teams play again today at 7 p.m. at Larks Park.
"It's going to be real big," Leo said. "We have to play a clean game and prove to ourselves we can finish a game."
The loss dropped Hays into a tie for first place in the Jayhawk League standings with Dodge City.