By CONOR NICHOLL
Right-hander Alex Ellison has produced a superb last two and a half months for the Fort Hays State University and Hays Larks' baseball teams. On Thursday, though, Ellison delivered an outing few have matched.
Ellison pitched seven shutout innings of one-hit baseball for the Larks and earned the victory in a 5-0 non-league win against the Colorado Sox at Larks Park. Known for working quickly and pounding the strike zone, Ellison retired the first 14 batters and no one hit a ball out of the infield. He throws in the low to mid-80s, but used a fastball, curve, changeup and slider effectively.
"He is a lesson in how to pitch," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "He pitches down, but he will elevate once in awhile and get your eyes up there and then he comes right back down. Outstanding control.
"He is a pitcher and, to win, you've got to be a pitcher," Leo added. "Not just a guy who goes out there with a lot of velocity and tries to throw it back somebody and has no idea where it is going. Alex is just the opposite of that."
Tyler Hill delivered the lone hit against Ellison with a single to right-center. Then, Ellison retired seven straight. He walked a batter and committed an error on a ground ball, but retired the threat with a double play ball.
"He knows where every pitch is going and he has got a game plan and executes it," Leo said.
Michael Freeman, who had struggled as a starter, finished with two innings of scoreless relief. Hays moved to 13-4 with its fourth straight victory and swept the three-game set versus the Sox. The injury-plagued Larks completed their nine-game homestand, longest of the year, with a 6-3 record.
"If he can get comfortable and sometimes coming out of the pen gets a guy turned around a little bit," Leo said. "We need him. We brought him in here to pitch and help us."
In the fall, Ellison was dominant for the Tigers. Jay Sanders, who caught Ellison at FHSU and again Thursday, believed the right-hander allowed one earned run last fall.
"He was pretty good for us and that's what we expected from him in the spring," Sanders said.
Ellison opened the spring season with the Tigers with a 20.25 earned-run average in his first six outings, but has now worked seven straight starts with at least six innings. With the Larks, Ellison is 2-0 with a 1.40 earned-run average in 191âÑ3 innings. Sanders noticed a change with the right-hander midway through the spring.
"A little bit more focused, he is a little bit more determined," Sanders said. "Earlier in the spring, he was leaving his stuff up. We were playing in windy conditions. Now, though, he is a totally different Alex. ... He has got a good mix of pitches and he can throw it in, out. That's why he is so dominant sometimes, because he can throw all three for strikes and he can mix it up real well against hitters."
Hays tallied one run in the second, two in the third and two more in the eighth. Austin Darby hit his fourth homer of the year and his third in two nights when a two-run blast over the right-center field fence.
Sanders was 2 for 12 this season entering Thursday, but went 2 of 3 with a walk. As well, when Sanders starts a game, the Larks are 5-0 and pitchers have a 1.66 ERA.
"It's pretty easy for me," Sanders said.
"When I am catching and if those guys are in rhythm and they have all of their stuff working, I am just putting down fingers and they are executing it, so I am just back there to help call a game and catch the ball for them."
This weekend, Hays will travel to Derby for a three-game series. Shawn Lewick (2-0, 2.08 ERA) will start for the Tigers on Friday. The Larks have dealt with several injuries, with mixed results. Shortstop Elvin Rodriguez can start with baseball activities after missing several weeks.
"He is itching to get back in against Derby," Leo said. "I am not sure. We will have to see how the series goes. He has got to wear a brace on his hand. He has got to wear that to protect it. We can't afford to get him setback. We need him. At this point, if he gets another setback, he could be done for the summer."
Claudio Valencia, an infielder/reliever, will have an X-ray today, but Leo believes Valencia is not seriously hurt, but will likely miss the five-game road trip with a wrist injury.
Third baseman Joe Betcher has a bad shin bruise after he fouled a ball off late in the spring season. He hit the same spot against Dodge City on Monday, has a big bruise and took off the three games versus the Sox. Betcher should be able to play Friday versus Derby.