By CONOR NICHOLL
Through the years, Denver Cougars manager Mark Cerullo has enjoyed taking his team on an early season tour through Kansas and the Jayhawk League. The Cougars have very little NCAA Division I talent and the Jayhawk League allows Denver a look at top-shelf competition to see how the program matches up.
"The Larks are my favorite team in the Jayhawk," Cerullo said. "Hands down. I love Frank (Leo). I love Keith (Harper). Dusty (Washburn). The whole thing. That's always the team that I am always amped to play, because it's a class organization."
Hays, helped by five second-inning runs, delivered an 8-5 non-league victory on an unusually cold Wednesday night at Larks Park. Last year, June 5 was 100 degrees. This year, fans were in jackets and sweatshirts as the temperature was in the 60s. The Larks had a quick turnaround after they came back to Hays at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday morning following a doubleheader in Liberal. A storm in Dodge City slowed the trip.
"They are good competition, quality competition," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "You play non-league stuff, you've got to be careful that you just don't go out there and go through the motions. It challenged us a little bit, and that's what we needed to have. We were a little sluggish today, and that's understandable."
The Cougars normally set up their rotation where one pitcher goes five innings and then the next one goes three.
The Cougars had two pitchers lined up to throw Wednesday, but both of them had to head back to Denver on Tuesday night because of other commitments. Cerullo didn't find that out until after the game Tuesday against El Dorado. Denver had to start Wednesday with a position player, John-Jay Silva, on the mound. Denver dropped to 3-7 after a five-game road trip through Kansas.
Silva didn't throw much in the spring and had made one appearance this summer, in the season opener, and walked 14 batters in a 23-19 victory. This time, he took the loss after he worked four outs and allowed five runs on six walks and one hit against one strikeout. As well, the Larks stole four bases on five attempts and scored two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth. Two of the final three runs came on a ground ball to the right side with a runner on third and less than two outs.
"We have got some good hitters that understand the game," Leo said. "We've also got some very good team speed. We have got some guys that can run. They understand how to run and when to run, and we've got guys at the plate that know what it takes to score runs without hits. That's going to be key in the Jayhawk League. We are going to see good pitching, and you've got to be able to manufacture."
Hays team-pitched again and Jeff Chesnut worked four innings, allowing one run on three hits for the victory. Chesnut is expected to be the fifth starter in league play.
"Just a learning experience," Cerullo said. "For us, I don't really care if we win or lose. I just want to see how guys are going to respond. In Denver, we are not going to see that pitching out of every pitcher."
The Larks worked four relievers after Chesnut. Logan DeRosier allowed four runs in the sixth, but Ian Bentley ended the threat and worked 2.1 scoreless innings. Bentley allowed some seeing-eye hits against Liberal on Tuesday, but bounced back Wednesday, something Leo was pleased with D.J. Carr worked the ninth for the save. Carr is one of three options the Larks have to close, along with Dalton Viner and David Owen. Hays will open a three-game home series Friday against El Dorado. Brandon Anderson will start Friday.
"I think we are good shape," Leo said.
After the game, each Denver player and Cerullo walked over to the Larks dugout, shook Leo's hand and thanked him for the night. Then, the Denver players sat down at the picnic tables and had a meal provided by the Larks and team boosters.
"I know when I show up, I am going to get treated right," Cerullo said.
Shortstop Elvin Rodriguez's status is unclear heading into this weekend's Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft. The first round is today with the next rounds over the next two days.
"You never know with the draft," Leo said. "You don't want to predict anything. You just want to take it and whatever happens, happens. You know he will be disappointed a little bit if it doesn't happen. He put himself in a position to be drafted. He did everything he needed to do."
Outfielder Aaron Cornell will come in Friday, Brett McMurry is waiting on the draft. Catcher Brett Lang continues to rehab from a quad injury.
During this weekend's Jayhawk League series with league-leading El Dorado (5-0, 3-0 Jayhawk), the Larks have several events going on at Larks Park. Friday is "First Responders Night," paying tribute to law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics and all first responders.
Saturday is "Military Appreciation Night." All active, reserve, and retired military personnel are specially invited to attend the game and be honored on the field during pre-game ceremonies. Both nights' games start at 7 p.m.
Hays 8, Denver 5
Denver (3-7) 000 104 000 - 5 8 0
Hays (5-1) 050 021 00x - 8 5 1
Silva, Kannenberg (2), Costanza (7) and Azar; Chesnut, Frey (5), DeRosier (6), Bentley (6), Carr (9) and White. W - Chesnut. L - Silva. S - Carr. 2B - Brown, Denver; Petersen, Hays.