By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- For two years, Eddie Carl had been a fan favorite with the Hays Larks for his engaging personality and constant smile. On the mound, Carl posted an 8-8 mark and recorded three solid starts in the National Baseball Congress World Series.
In his 24th appearance with the Larks, Carl capped a strong career with six innings of no-hit ball against the El Dorado Broncos on Thursday night. Carl ended up taking a tough-luck, 5-2 loss to end the Larks' season.
"I can't be any prouder of what Eddie Carl did tonight," Hays Larks manager Frank Leo said. "He has been great for the Larks program."
Carl retired the first batter in the seventh inning and was eight outs away from an historical performance before everything fell apart.
Hays committed three errors, including two by shortstop Sean Wilson, and Andrew Heck misjudged a fly ball in left field. El Dorado scored three seventh-inning runs to take the lead in the NBC quarterfinals matchup at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Carl called the outing his greatest Larks' performance.
"Not going out with a win, but he is going out as a heckuva competitor," Leo said.
Hays tied for fourth in the World Series, while El Dorado (40-9, 6-0) remained the only undefeated team in the tournament. The Broncos, who won the Jayhawk League this summer, moved into the championship round Saturday, and will have to be beaten twice. The Larks, after an 8-8 start, finished the year 32-16 overall, 5-2 in the World Series.
"They played outstanding when they got here," Leo said. "I can't fault their effort. The heart they played with in this tournament was second to none."
The Larks, leading 2-0 entering the seventh, had a chance for their fifth straight losers' bracket victory. Carl hit the first batter then struck out Travis Whipple before Matt Giller hit a fly ball to deep left-center. Heck went back to the warning track but the ball tipped off his glove. It one-hopped off the wall for a double and the Broncos' first hit.
"I felt I was under it," Heck said. "They tell you to sprint until you are underneath the ball. I felt like I was there. That little dropoff hurt me from grass to warning track. I am not making any excuses. I should have had the ball. It shouldn't have been a hit. It should have been the second out of the inning."
Said Carl: "I thought Heck's fly ball should have been caught. It was kind of routine. He took kind of a bad route on it."
Chad Carman followed with a ground ball to Wilson, who had to charge the hopper and needed to make a quick throw. Wilson threw the ball over first baseman Rick Devereaux's head. Both runs scored. Carman went to second on the error and moved to third on a wild pitch.
"We just always rely on each other and know that somebody is going to pick up," Carman said. "We always have hope. As long as there are outs, we have life."
After a strikeout, Dorain Williams followed with a routine grounder to Wilson, who double-clutched and threw it in the dirt for another error and a 3-2 Broncos lead. Carl finished the inning with a strikeout.
El Dorado added two runs in the eighth against reliever Chase Barrera. Randall Bulliard pitched the ninth for the Broncos to earn the save.
"We kind of make our own breaks because we hustle every play we can," Carman said. "It means the other team can't take any breaks. They try to force stuff to happen sometimes, and we put pressure on them and get a break now and then."
WIlson, the starting shortstop for Hays all summer, finished the tournament with six errors in seven games, including four in the final two contests.
"Sean has had a great season for us," Leo said. "I told him remember the good days because he had some great days for us."
His final inning marred a brilliant performance from Carl, who worked seven innings, permitted one hit and struck out a career-high 12 against three walks. It marked the fourth time Carl (5-5) had thrown versus El Dorado this summer. He finished 0-3 with a 1.73 earned-run average against the Broncos.
"I know they are in the Jayhawk League, so there is a little competition there to try to keep the league rivalry," Carl said. "I just try to come out and put on my 'A' game. It just happens to be them most of the time."
Carl, often working the outside corner to right-handers and inside corner to lefties, redeemed himself after a 42âÑ3 inning performance last Friday in a loss against the Conejo (Calif.) Oaks.
"Last outing, I couldn't really get to a rhythm," he said. "I tried to focus on it more during the day, just try to focus on the game. Throwing a lot more strikes today. Walked a couple people, but started to get ahead most of the counts.
"I was working in and out all game, getting the off-speed for strikes most of the time. Overall, I had a real good day," he added.
Jason Morriss hit a solo homer in the fourth to give Hays a 1-0 lead. Heck hit an RBI double off winning pitcher Justin Lindsey in the top of the seventh to make it 2-0. Carl was aware El Dorado was hitless, but stayed calm and talkative in the dugout.
"I knew I had a no-no for awhile," Carl said. "I didn't try to think about it. I tried to think about other stuff and focused on pitching."
In the bottom of the seventh, though, Carl and Hays lost the no-hitter on Giller's double -- and eventually the game. Afterward, Carl still wore his perpetual smile as he gathered his baseball gear near the first-base dugout. Several people, including multiple teammates and the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters coach, stopped by to congratulate Carl on the great effort. Unfortunately for Larks' fans, it didn't end in a win.
"It's a good way to go out this summer," Carl said. "I hate to lose that game."