By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- Hays Larks starter Eddie Carl constantly worked behind hitters, allowed baserunners and dodged several rallies in the early innings against the Conejo (Calif.) Oaks in the National Baseball Congress World Series on Friday night.
In the fifth, Hays second baseman Jason Morriss made a dazzling play with the bases loaded to end the inning and preserve a 5-3 Larks lead.
"We were pitching out of trouble all night long," Hays manager Frank Leo said.
Hays, though, couldn't halt Conejo rallies in the sixth and ninth innings. The Oaks scored five unanswered runs against the Larks' bullpen and won 8-5 in a winners' bracket game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The eight runs tied for the most Hays has permitted since June 16.
"We had that game in our grasp and we just let it slip," Leo said.
Hays (28-15), which wasted a good all-around day from Morriss, saw its season-best nine game winning streak end. The Larks shut out the San Diego Waves 5-0 Saturday to remain alive in the World Series. (See page B1).
On a windy day, the two teams combined for 27 hits, 13 runs and used nine pitchers, including five for Hays. Four extra-base hits were recorded, including a three-run homer in the sixth inning from Conejo's Ryan Delgado against Larks reliever Devyn Rivera. The blast gave the Oaks a 6-5 lead.
Conejo tacked on two more runs in the ninth against reliever Patrick Cooper. Conejo's bullpen limited Hays to three hits and no runs in the final three innings.
"They just got ahead us," Morriss said of Conejo's relievers. "That is always tough hitting with one or two strikes, you have to battle back. They did a good job. It was a hitter's day today. The wind was blowing out."
Carl put Hays in a hole early. A second-year Lark, Carl had been a solid No. 2 starter all season, posting a 5-4 record and 2.78 earned-run average. In the first inning, he walked three batters and permitted one run.
With the bases loaded, Carl coaxed a two-out grounder to end the threat. Carl allowed another run in the second -- and left a pair of runners on. He permitted another run in the third. Overall, the right-hander worked 42βΡ3 innings, allowing seven hits, three runs (two earned) with four walks and four strikeouts.
"It all starts with setting the tone on the mound," Leo said. "Eddie just wasn't Eddie tonight. He has been very dependable for us and tonight he was behind hitters, walked hitters, hit hitters. It is not the Eddie Carl that we are used to seeing. Unfortunately, today on a big stage, we needed him, the right Eddie Car, and it didn't happen."
Down 3-1, Hays came back with four in the bottom of the third with an error, forceout and five singles, including run-scoring hits from Rafael Valenzuela, Morriss and Andrew Heck. Hays kept Conejo scoreless in the fourth and fifth, despite five Oaks baserunners.
Morriss helped end both innings. In the fourth, Morriss charged a ground ball from David Casey, turned, jumped and flipped to Sean Wilson to start a double play.
An inning later, Calvin Lewis relieved Carl with the bases loaded. Jarred Frierson laced a ground ball up the middle. Morriss backhanded the ball on a short hop near the second base bag and made the play.
"An outstanding play," Leo said. "That ball leaves the bat -- and I have seen him make that play before -- it looks like it is going into center field and a couple RBIs and he snags it and we get out of that jam."
Conejo broke through in the sixth.
"I just didn't think we got into sync early," Leo said. "We got the lead but then our bullpen really didn't give us a chance to stay in it."
The Oaks put the first two men on with an error and single against Lewis. Rivera (0-1), making his second appearance after he joined Hays on Sunday, got the first out when Isaac Garcia made a diving catch down the third-base line on a foul ball. Then, Delgado smoked a three-run homer deep to left field. It marked just the fifth homer in 39 games at the World Series.
"Their bullpen was very good," Leo said. "Ours wasn't up to the task. Devyn Rivera seemed to settle back in. (He) made one pitch up and the guy took advantage of it."
After the third inning, Hays mustered little offense against Conejo starter and winning pitcher Justin Schutt and three relievers.
The only scoring opportunity came in the eighth. Down 6-5, Ollie Goulder led off with a walk. Codi Harshman tried to bunt, but popped the ball up. Casey rushed in from first base, caught the ball and doubled off Goulder.
"That was key," Leo said. "It was 6-5. The guy was a little wild. Maybe that pitch was up. We had to get that bunt down and we didn't get down."
Conejo scored two more runs in the ninth versus Cooper, the 2008 Larks ace who joined Hays after he pitched in the Cape Cod League this summer. Cooper permitted no hard-hit balls -- just a single, a perfectly placed hit-and-run single and a squeeze bunt.
"Those little things, they did a good job of executing," Cooper said. "They put a ground ball in play, got a steal, executed a suicide squeeze well. Those things are easy outs, but hard to defend against sometimes. They put the ball in play at the right time and in the right place."
Hays was retired in the ninth for its first loss since July 21.