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SPOTLIGHT
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Larks off to good start

Published on -6/10/2014, 10:12 AM

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By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Hays Larks 32nd-year manager Frank Leo had a few concerns with who might be the field general behind the plate at catcher for this year's club.

Seven games in and a 7-0 start, 4-0 in Jayhawk League, that position is one of numerous bright spots with Kansas State University's Tanner DeVinny and University of Chicago-Illinois' Ty Detmer.

"They block well, they throw outstanding,"  Leo said of his catching duo. "They stick pitches good. They're a package deal -- a very good 1-2.

"We don't miss a beat no matter who we put back there."

And Detmer has been hot playing in just five games. The Breese, Ill., native is batting .500 with five runs scored, and five driven in. Only Derek Birginske (six RBIS in seven games) has driven in more. Detmer and Wichita State University's Zair Koeiman have hit safely in all four league games.

Hays hasn't seemed to have trouble producing runs, especially late and in the Jayhawk League, a 4-0 start all on the road. That included a weekend sweep of the El Dorado Broncos. The Larks have outscored opponents 33-9, and are batting .278 as a team with 17 extra-base hits (four home runs).

In each of the four league wins, the Larks have scored runs in the final three innings to either take or extend a small lead. They scored a run in the top of the ninth to win 2-1 at Dodge City, then scored three in the seventh to win one game of a doubleheader, 4-1, at El Dorado. In another win at El Dorado, Hays scored five runs in the final three frames to break open a 3-2 game.

"The encouraging things is in close games --  late in the game --  it seems like we turn it up a little bit, so that's good."

Today, Hays enters a six-game home stretch as it looks to match last summer's hot start. The Larks host Dodge City at 7 p.m. today, then have Liberal in town Wednesday and Thursday before Wellington is at Larks Park for a three-game set this weekend.

Last year, Hays began the season 14-1, 10-1 in league play.

The Larks and Heat sit atop the Jayhawk League. Wellington is 9-0, and 3-0 in league play.

"I told the guys 'There are a lot of games to go, but I'd rather be 4-0, then 0-4. If we can maintain what we're doing, that's going to put us in pretty good shape," Leo said.

The Larks' roster also is nearly full. Southeast Louisiana right-handed pitcher Gage Pickett and Youngstown State infielder/pitcher Shane Willoughby arrived Monday. Oklahoma State's Aaron Cornell, a fourth-year Lark, will arrive this weekend after the Cowboys' were eliminated from the postseason. Also, left-hander Ian Bentley is slated to arrive July 1.

"You always say if you can play .500 on the road, and above that at home, you have a good chance," Leo said. "We'll take it one game at a time. We're glad to be home."

Notes --  Wednesday's game against Liberal is Educators' Night. Friday is First Responders' Night. Saturday is McKids' Day and Pack the Park/Pantry. Sunday is Little League Night, where area little league teams are invited to the park.

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