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Lewick pitches gem as Larks roll to big victory

Published on -8/10/2012, 10:44 AM

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WICHITA -- Shawn Lewick and the Hays Larks made a few friends Thursday night in the 78th annual NBC World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.

Hays knocked off the defending NBC champion Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters, the final remaining unbeaten in the 32-team field. Lewick nearly was flawless, Hays jumped out early, and the Larks earned their second run-rule victory of the tourney, 8-0, in seven innings against a Santa Barbara team that lost for just the third time in the last three seasons in the NBC.

"The Foresters are always a great team," said Lewick, who picked up his second win in the tournament. "Feels great, they were the last undefeated."

The rare loss by the Foresters made sure whomever makes Saturday's championship game will have to win just one game to claim the 2012 NBC title in the double-elimination format. Santa Barbara had won 12 straight NBC games dating back to last season, and now is 17-3 in the last three finales.

The remaining four are Hays, Santa Barbara, Seattle and El Dorado. Hays and Seattle play in today's 6 p.m. semifinal with Santa Barbara and El Dorado to follow.

"We had a chance to make Saturday a one-game championship for whoever gets there," Larks manager Frank Leo said.

"We worked our tails of to make that happen. We still have to get through Friday night."

The Larks did their best to leave no doubt early in Thursday's game. After Lewick pitched a 1-2-3 first inning against the perennial power, Hays (35-12) plated five runs in the bottom half, chasing Santa Barbara starter Jared Wilson with five runs on four hits.

Aaron Cornell and Zair Koeiman had back-to-back singles to start the game, MacKenzie Handel laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Austin Darby drove in a 2-0 lead.

After two walks by Wilson, Joe Betcher hit a shallow pop-up to left center field that Forester left fielder Arby Fields lost. It dropped in for a two-out, two-RBI double to give Hays the early 5-0 cushion.

The rest was all Lewick, mixed with the struggles of a Santa Barbara bullpen that had been solid in its previous five games.

"The breaking ball, the curve ball, and the slider were working real well," said Lewick, who pitched all seven innings. "(I was) spotting up the fast ball, just mainly keeping them off-balance."

Santa Barbara (38-16) didn't get a baserunner until the third inning on a single, but no runner reached second on Lewick until the seventh when he gave up his only walk.

"I started working the change-up in the later innings," Lewick said. "...Didn't show it in the first half, but second half started showing it."

Lewick moved to 2-0 in the tourney with a 1.29 earned-run average in 14 innings.

He struck out eight, allowing three Forrester hits.

"Shawn Lewick is a competitor. There was no doubt in my mind he was going to compete tonight -- the right guy in the right spot," Leo said. "That's a very good ball club, and he had the right kind of temperament, and the right kind of tempo to keep attacking."

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara, a strong pitching staff, struggled. The Foresters had walked just 12 batters coming into the Super Six round, but walked 12 more against the Larks. The eight runs allowed was a tournament high by the Foresters. In Hays' three-run fourth inning, Santa Barbara pitchers combined for four walks and a hit batsmen. Hays scored one run on a wild pitch, and another an on RBI walk collected by Koeiman. Santa Barbara used five pitchers to get through six innings.

"We've watched that staff, and they've been very good out of the pen," Leo said. "They have a lot of good arms, and he'll keep them coming you.

"We were fortunate. We played a very good game plan."

Hays' win was its sixth straight, and they now lead the NBC in wins after dropping their tourney opener to the Greeley (Colo.) Grays on July 30.

The last Hays team to lose in the first round and make a championship game was in 2000 when the Larks took second.

"What fun is it to win every single game, right?" Lewick said with a smile. "You lose that first one, it kind of sets the tone and makes you realize something."

The Larks' six straight wins have included two run-rules, and a pair of one-run victories. A seventh win today would put the Larks in their fifth championship game under Leo. Hays has finished second four times. Veteran right-hander Aaron Breit is slated to start today against perennial contender Seattle, a 6-1 winner in Thursday's late game against the St. Joseph (Mo.) Mustangs. If the Larks win today, they will play at 7 p.m. in Saturday's championship game.


...With six hits in Thursday's win, Hays now has 65 in the tournament to lead the field. The Larks have also played one more game than any team. ...Cornell, the Jayhawk League MVP last season, has turned it on in the tournament. He leads the tournament with 13 hits, averaging .448 through seven games. ...

Ryan Busboom and Darby also are among the leaders in doubles. Busboom sits second with three, and Darby tied for third with two. ... With nine walks allowed, the Larks' pitching staff is tied for fifth least allowed, but have pitched at least 33 more innings than the eight teams that have allowed fewer.

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