By CONOR NICHOLL
For several Larks, Monday night was all about overcoming adversity. And a little "Larks Magic" helped, too.
Led by starter Pepe Gomez, closer Michael Burchett, a three-run homer from Jon Ryan and several key singles in the seventh inning, Hays defeated Derby, 8-6, at Larks Park.
"Gutsy win," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "When the game is on the line, our guys did what they had to to get runs home. That's the bottom line."
Hays moved into second place in the Jayhawk League by a game over Derby. The Larks are 27-16 overall, 19-14 in the conference. Derby stands at 24-17, 18-15. The regular season concludes for Hays with a 7 p.m. home contest Wednesday against Dodge City.
Gomez, fighting through a groin injury, hadn't won a game all summer and had several short outings. The right-hander allowed four second-inning runs and another run in the fourth, but eventually worked seven strong innings.
"Then I got in a groove," Gomez said. "Luckily, the coaches left me in."
Burchett came in for a four-out save and coaxed a strikeout with two men on base to end the eighth inning. The right-hander picked up his ninth save of the season, second-most for a single season in Larks history.
"Never a doubt," Gomez said. "I know he is going to get it done."
In the first six innings, Hays left nine batters on base. With the score tied at 5 in the seventh, the Larks scored two runs to take the lead. After two walks and a groundout, shortstop Elvin Rodriguez, batting ninth, lofted a 2-2 pitch into short center field for an RBI single.
"We left some men on base early and you always think that's going to come back to haunt you, but these guys have something to play for," Leo said.
Sean Wilson, the conference leader in hitting in Jayhawk League games with a .467 average, had been 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.
But he followed Rodriguez with a single that just cleared Derby second baseman T.J. Yashuhara's glove.
"The way things have been going against us, when it left the bat, I am saying, 'Get up, get up, get up,' " Leo said. "And it got up just enough. It didn't have a whole lot of breathing room there, but it was just enough to get over his head."
"We seem to square a lot of balls up and they go right to people," Wilson said. "It was just one of our days. Balls found holes. Coach has been talking about the 'Larks Magic'. Maybe just a little bit of wind picked it up."
Hays tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when Derby catcher Todd Schultz missed Brandon Dixon's popup near home plate. The misplay scored Ryan.
Ryan provided the game's first blow with a three-run homer in the first inning, his team-leading ninth of the year. The left-handed Ryan is two off the top-10 list for Larks single season homers, a group that includes greats such as Lance Berkman, Nolan Reimold and Jim Leyritz.
"You have got to watch him in batting practice," Leo said. "The guy has tremendous bat speed. When he squares a ball up, it goes a long ways. You kind of picture a first inning, let's get Jonny up and get a couple guys on base and see what happens."
Gomez (1-2) allowed Derby to score four in the second off three hits, including a two-run triple from Michael Camporeale. He permitted another run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly, but he put up zeroes in his final three innings as Hays came back.
"I thought he elevated his game tonight," Leo said. "After that (four)-spot he gave up, I thought his game got really elevated. I think it made him mad. Sometimes you have got to get mad. Sometimes you have got to make your players mad so they can reach back an extra level, and I thought he did that tonight. Tremendous job."