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SPOTLIGHT
Larks' Lang, Koeiman stand out

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Larks' Lang, Koeiman stand out

Published on -7/4/2012, 2:18 PM

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Several thoughts on the Larks and some football...

Left-handed hitting Jim Thome, the longtime designated hitter and probable Hall of Famer, is well known for pointing his bat at the pitcher before each offering. Thome started the pre-pitch ritual in the minors in 1993, according to his biography. The move was borrowed from Roy Hobbs in "The Natural" and helps Thome trigger his swing.

Larks' first baseman/third baseman/designated hitter Brett Lang follows a similar approach, albeit from the right side. Lang said he didn't get the move from watching Thome. Still, it's produced great success. Lang, from University of North Carolina-Charlotte, carries a .349 average, third-best on the team.

"I guess that I have been doing that since I was young, one of those habits, one of those repetitions. I guess getting comfortable in the box," Lang said.

* * *

Every Larks team has players that always stick in my mind. In the five years I have been here, pitchers Patrick Cooper, Andrew Heck and Chase Johnson are fresh in my mind. Cooper for his consistency -- incredibly, he never allowed a home run in his Larks' career -- Heck for his efficiency and Johnson for his utter domination as the team's closer. Position players include Sean Wilson, Cody Gougler, Rich Michalek and a pair of holdovers on the 2012 team: Elvin Rodriguez and Aaron Cornell.

After a month of play, add another one to the list: second baseman Zair Koeiman.

The smooth infielder has delivered highlight reel plays and has shown power with a team-high seven homers from the leadoff spot.

Plus, Koeiman could set the Larks' all-time record for single season hit by pitches. He already has 11.

* * *

I've started working on the Fort Hays and prep football season for more than a month now and have talked with more than a dozen coaches from the area. I believe, as do most coaches, than Almena-Northern Valley should make a big jump from a 6-3 record last season. In fact, Northern Valley is getting so much preseason hype that it may be hard to consider the Huskies a sleeper come August.

However, my other surprise team -- plenty more on this next month -- is Atwood. The Buffs were an injury-plagued team in Class 2-1A last season and finished 4-5. This season, Atwood moves to Eight-Man, Division I and returns plenty of numbers, including its starting quarterback and running back.

The seven area teams, Hill City, Quinter, Stockton, WaKeeney-Trego, Ness City, Hoxie and Osborne, that have dropped to eight-man football in the last five seasons have all enjoyed increased success. Quinter has won a state title. Hill City was state runner-up and Osborne has made two straight sub-state games. Ness City went 8-2 last fall and is one of Eight-Man, Division I's top teams. Those seven squads averaged a 3.6 win improvement in its first season of eight-man ball. I expect Atwood to have a similar climb.

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