By CONOR NICHOLL
Right fielder Mackenzie Handel “felt it brewing” in the ninth inning. The Hays Larks trailed El Dorado by two runs entering their last at-bat. However, a walk and double brought in one run. Handel had an 0-2 count and nearly took strike three on the outside corner.
“I thought it was,” Handel said. “It was on the corner, but I feel like that call could go either way. He was going back and forth with it, so I was fortunate enough for him not to call it.”
On the next pitch, Handel delivered a line drive, game-tying single to left-center. Then, in the 11th, outfielder Desmond Roberts had an 0-2 count and took a close pitch for a ball.
El Dorado manager Chad Gerwick argued and was ejected. On the next pitch, Roberts smashed a walk-off home run to deep right-center for an 8-7 victory on Friday night at Larks Park. It marked another amazing comeback for Hays in the 33-year Frank Leo era, but the first “Larks magic” of 2013.
“There is something in the air at this ball park,” Leo said. “If we stay in a game late, good things will happen, and it sure happened tonight.”
Hays moved to 6-1, 2-1 Jayhawk League, while El Dorado took its first loss of the year.
For Roberts, the homer was his first extra base hit with Hays — and his first in college baseball all year.
“Larks magic at its finest right there,” Handel added. “That was awesome.”
Roberts played at UNC-Charlotte this spring, but sat out because of academic issues. He was 4 of 21 before the homer.
“Best swing I have had since I have been down here,” the left-handed Roberts said. “The pitch was middle in. I talked to coach beforehand, and he was just like get your legs into it, and just let your body relax and that’s all I’ve been thinking about, and I just let it fly.”
Hays had to play from behind nearly all game. Starter Brandon Anderson, a freshman from Arizona Western Community College, has had some labrum issues in the past. In the first inning, Anderson hurt his shoulder and allowed two runs. Between innings, Larks catcher Taylor Petersen told the coaches, Anderson’s velocity was down and “There is nothing there, it’s flat, it’s straight.” Anderson managed to make it through a scoreless second before he left the game.
Hays came back with four third-inning runs before El Dorado tacked on one run in fourth and fifth and two in the sixth against reliever
Alex Frey. In the fourth, Bronco catcher David Parrett homered, the first homer allowed by a Larks pitcher this year. The Larks pushed Frey for four innings, longer than intended, but had to because of lack of depth.
Hays closed to 6-5 with a run in the bottom of the seventh, but El Dorado pushed the game to 7-5 with a squeeze bunt for a run in the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Elvin Rodriguez, the No. 9 hitter, led off with a walk, his team-leading tenth of the summer. Aaron Cornell struck out. Jake Placzek, who finished 3 of 4 with two doubles and three RBIs, followed with a run-scoring double to left-center.
“They were in command, and then, all of a sudden, the momentum changed,” Leo said.
Handel, who had a two-hit, two-RBI night, tied the game with his single.
“That’s what I love…a bunch of fighters,” Handel said. “No one goes down easy.”
David Owen (1-0) finished the game with three scoreless innings for the victory. He had to work around three hits and some close calls, too.
“I thought Owen made some good pitches that weren’t called strikes,” Leo said.
The Larks had seen Roberts’ power in practice, but Roberts had some rust in games after not playing for so long. Handel believed it would take Roberts between 20 and 30 at-bats to find rhythm.
On his 22nd at-bat, Roberts ended the game against Bronco closer Derek Miller, one pitch after he nearly struck out.
“I thought it was in,” Roberts said. “That was probably about two balls off. He hadn’t been calling that pitch. .. The whole game, he hadn’t been calling that inside pitch that far in. I was fortunate that he didn’t ring me up.”
Roberts took a few steps and then watched the ball in midair. For a split-second, Roberts thought the ball might fall short. Instead, it cleared the fence with ease and sent the 1,025 fans and Larks into jubilation. As Hays celebrated at home, several El Dorado personnel walked near home plate and vocally expressed displeasure with the umpires.
“Those things happen, but we took advantage of it,” Leo said.
Hays 8, El Dorado 7 (11 innings)
El Dorado 200 112 010 00 – 7 12 1
Hays 004 000 102 01 – 8 9 2
Cox, Wisniewski (5), Cotton (7), Posey (7), Miller (10) and Parrott. Anderson, Frey (3), Viner (7), Owen (9) and Petersen. W – Owen. L – Miller. 2B – Placzek 2, White, Hays. 3B – Stramp, El Dorado. HR – Parrott, El Dorado; Roberts, Hays.