By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- The Hays Larks coaching staff decided to change the pitching rotation for Wednesday's contest against the Crestwood (Ill.) Panthers in the 75th annual National Baseball Congress World Series.
Hays had No. 2 starter Eddie Carl on full rest but decided to use No. 4 starter Chris Larsen.
The move caused short-term difficulties but might pay huge dividends by the weekend.
Larsen got just four outs and allowed seven runs. However, Hays rallied from a 7-1 deficit and defeated Crestwood 9-8 to move into the final six and the quarterfinals. Hays will play Jayhawk League champion El Dorado today at 7:30 p.m. for a spot in the semifinals. El Dorado is the lone undefeated team in the tournament. This marks the 11th time in Frank Leo's 27 years as manager that Hays has been in the final six.
Hays originally planned to start Carl on Wednesday, Kurt Wunderlich today and Larsen, Friday. But Leo believed Larsen's two-seam fastball would pose problems for Crestwood's left-handed hitters. After Wednesday's victory, the Larks will try to finish the tourney with Carl, Wunderlich and Patrick Cooper in the championship Saturday.
"We felt like we had good enough pitching to win this tournament but we weren't sure about Friday," Leo said. "Now we are set up. I have been in this enough and I felt like was the time that we could gamble with it."
While Larsen had no previous experience at the World Series, Carl, Wunderlich and Cooper have all pitched in big tourney contests. Carl has made two starts in two years, allowing six runs in 102βΡ3 innings. Wunderlich tossed a complete game shutout last Saturday, while Cooper followed with a complete game Monday. Cooper is 3-0 in two years at the NBC.
Harshman turns it around
No player, statistically, has experienced a bigger turnaround than Harshman at the World Series. The No. 9 hitter and right fielder entered the tournament with a .219 batting average, lowest among starters. In the tourney, Harshman is second on the team in batting with a .421 average (8-for-19). Harshman is 6-for-8 after he started 2-for-11 at the season finale.
"It's been long, I've just hung with it," Harshman said. "Stay with my swing and it just finally came together."
That includes a 4-for-4 night against Crestwood, featuring a run scored and two RBIs. Harshman's triple down the right-field line in the sixth inning brought Hays within 7-4 and changed the game's momentum.
"That was a big game turner," Leo said.
Harshman's triple landed a few inches fair. It was his second triple of the year. Among players that have at least 19 World Series at-bats, Harshman is tied for fourth in batting average.
"I hit it, then I watched it a little bit and then I just took off," Harshman said. "I knew it was a triple."
Harshman is one of several Larks that have hit better in the NBC than the regular season -- a hallmark of any team wanting to play deep in the tournament. Harshman, Ollie Goulder, Sean Wilson, Rick Devereaux and Andrew Heck have all seen an increase. Heck leads the team with a .462 average (6-for-13) at the World Series.
Morriss' slide into home pate with the game-winning run Wednesday was re-played continuously on a TV monitor near the entrance at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. DVD copies of the game can be purchased for $20 through the NBC. ... Several Larks rank among the World Series leaders. Devereaux is tied for third in RBIs (8), while Morriss is tied for third in steals (5). Devyn Rivera is fifth in opponents' batting average (.129) and Heck ranks second in innings pitched (16). Wunderlich is tied for first in runs and earned runs allowed (0). ... El Dorado beat Liberal 4-3 on a walk-off single Wednesday night. With the bases loaded and none out, Liberal manager Mike Hargrove, a former major league manager, had a unique defensive alignment with five infielders. He brought center fielder Tanner Rindels into the infield and played him by second base. However, an El Dorado hitter lofted a bloop single down the right-field line to secure the win. ... The final six teams are Hays, Liberal, El Dorado, the Anchorage (Alaska) Glacier Pilots, the Conejo (Calif.) Oaks -- the lone team to beat Hays -- and the defending champion, Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters.