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Larks Notes: Close games theme of tournament

Published on -8/5/2012, 8:26 PM

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WICHITA -- Especially in the elimination bracket of the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, tight-knit contests can take their toll on the nerves.

When it's win-or-go-home, every play counts. Every pitch counts, and every mistake counts. That seems to be even more obvious in this year's tournament. The 78th version at the historic ball park has produced more than a handful of nail-biters.

The most recent was the Hays Larks' third contest in the bracket. It was also the Larks' third game decided by one run. After starting the tournament with a 2-1 loss to the Greeley (Colo.) Grays, the Larks have squeaked out a pair of 3-2 victories to stay alive. Hays was 6-4 in one-run games entering tournament.

"I guess that's the M.O. for this tournament," Larks manager Frank Leo said after his squad rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 early Saturday morning against the Newton Rebels.

"You can't make any mistakes," he added. "They made a great relay to keep us off the board, and we did some good things defensively -- nothing really flashy, but we made the defensive plays when we had to and made the pitches when we had to."

Doing what you have to do becomes even more important in tight ball games, of which there have been plenty. After Friday's round and 35 games played, 17 games had been decided by one run. Of those games, five were been decided by two runs. In 12 of those contests, the winning team scored three runs or less.

"Strike one (is the most important)," said Larks left-handed starter Shawn Lewick, after pitching in Saturday's win. "Strike one and let your defense work. That's really all you can ask for."

Since dropping the opener 2-1, though, the Larks have been battling the nerves in tight ball games, especially on the brink of elimination.

"Right now, we're still a little nervous after that first game," Lewick said. "Nervous can be good, but in a way you can't push, you can't press.

"If we relax, play calm and keeping playing the way we have, we're going to keep winning games," he added.

The way the Larks have been winning games hasn't been the same way they did it all summer long. Hays won 10 straight games and rallied to win its first Jayhawk League title since 2008, and did it with a potent offense that averaged nearly seven runs per contest. The Larks have scored just eight runs through three games.

"We have to grind hard -- grind out every at-bat, every play," Larks right fielder Austin Darby said after Monday's loss to open the tourney. "You have to bust your butt and work hard, and hope things fall in your favor."

Still, Leo knows the Larks' offense is there. In Saturday's win, Hays showed glimpses of what it had done this summer with a pair of triples, one each from Zair Koeiman and Brett Lang. Both resulted in runs in the contest. Hays finished with 10 hits in the ball game, but it left 12 runners stranded, seven in scoring position.

Humes makes debut

With second-year Lark Jon Ryan ailing with a sore back, the Larks got some relief in the form of Adam Humes, who made his debut Saturday. Humes, a teammate of Colton Reavis, Jason Heflin and Elvin Rodriguez at Northwood (Texas) University, reached base twice, once on a fielders choice and the other on a Newton error. Humes, who Leo said the Larks almost had on their roster all summer, spent the season in Alaska, playing for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinoooks. He batted .313 with 11 doubles, three home runs and 27 RBIs. This spring, Humes earned his second all-Red River Athletic Conference first-team selection as catcher for the Knights. He was first team as a freshman, second team as a sophomore, and first team again this spring. Saturday, he batted seventh for the Larks in the DH spot.

Pitchers going deep

Lewick's seven-plus-inning appearance Saturday was the third solid outing for the Larks in as many games. In the first two, Justin Ziegler and Joey Begel pitched complete games, and the Larks have used just two innings out of the bullpen.

Begel, who tossed his second complete game of the summer in Wednesday's win, said the pitch clock (20 seconds at the NBC) has been a big factor. His complete game lasted just 1 hour, 25 minutes.

"I usually pitch quick games -- probably not this quick," he said after Wednesday's win. "I'm a quick guy, but (the pitch clock) keeps them from stepping out and taking away my rhythm."

Jayhawk League

Both still in the winners' side of the bracket, Dodge City and El Dorado were both set to play Saturday, but all five Jayhawk League teams are still alive in the NBC field.

Liberal suffered its first loss Wednesday, 4-3, to Hutchinson but stayed alive Friday with a 3-2 win in 11 innings against the Colorado Sox. Haysville, the league's worst team this season, earned an automatic bid by way of the Midwest Regional. The Heat won again Friday night, 8-6, and will face the Greeley Grays today in the winners' bracket.

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