By RANDY GONZALES
The Hays Larks needed a good outing from Justin Ziegler in his first start of the season.
As a former president might say, mission accomplished.
Ziegler had a no-hitter through six innings before giving up a leadoff single in the seventh. He worked seven scoreless innings before the bullpen took over, helping the Larks take a 5-0 win over Dodge City in Jayhawk League action Tuesday night at Larks Park.
Hays starters had given up 13 runs in 51‚—3 innings in back-to-back losses to Liberal entering the game.
"We just felt like at this point we just needed a strong start," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "He gave us exactly what we needed."
Ziegler, who said he was making his first start since summer ball in 2009, was happy to get a start, but wasn't sure how long he would last.
"The only thing I was nervous about was how long I could go," Ziegler said. "I hadn't gone that long in quite a while.
"I was pretty happy with it, felt pretty good," he added. "Probably going to be pretty sore tomorrow."
Aaron Cornell gave Ziegler the only run he needed with a leadoff homer down the line in right field in the bottom of the first.
Sean Wilson's run-scoring fielder's choice and Sloan Soulia's two-out RBI single made it 3-0 in the third. Three straight singles with two outs in the sixth, the last by Elvin Rodriguez, scored another run. Hays (14-7 overall, 8-6 Jayhawk) got another run in the seventh when Wilson scored from third while Cam Brown was tagged out during a rundown between first and second on a steal attempt.
"We got to find a way to get those clutch hits," Leo said. "I thought we did that tonight.
"I thought Sloan Soulia had a big hit for us, so did Elvin Rodriguez -- had some two two-out hits, two-out RBIs, those are big for us."
Will Hagel hit a clean single to left to lead off the Dodge City seventh to break up Ziegler's no-hit bid. In a way, it was a relief to see the ball fall in, said Leo, who knew Ziegler was getting near his pitch limit.
"He threw 80 pitches, that's probably where he was going to max out," Leo said. "Have to take a guy out with a no-hitter, that's a tough decision. ... The base hit kind of took all the pressure off, make that decision."
Ziegler was just happy to pitch well. He wasn't thinking about a no-hitter.
"It was subconsciously in the back of my mind," Ziegler said of a possible no-hitter. "I wasn't going for it, I was taking it one batter at a time.
"It was one of those things it's cool after the fact, but it's not what you aim for," he added. "More important getting the shutout and getting the win."
Ziegler (1-0) had one walk and nine strikeouts, and retired the first 11 hitters he faced. Pepe Gomez and Michael Burchett each pitched a scoreless inning to finish up.
After losing twice to Liberal, Leo said the players knew it was important to bounce back against Dodge City (11-10, 5-9).
"If there's ever a must-win -- we talked about it after losing to Liberal -- it's kind of a turning point in our season, this game tonight could have been," Leo said. "A loss tonight, then we go on the road four games. ... It was a mini-defining moment of where this season is going to go."
The Larks will be in Dodge City tonight before heading to Derby for a three-game weekend series starting on Friday. Left-hander Kirk Jewasko (2-1) is tonight's probable starter. He gave up six runs and didn't make it out of the second inning in losing to Liberal on Saturday.
"He'll bounce back," Leo said. "He's a veteran guy."