By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- Jason Morriss played second base on the artificial turf at Larks Park all summer. However, the Hays Larks infielder has to take a different approach on the spongier turf at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium that often yields high hops and ground-ball singles.
"You definitely have to focus a lot more," Morriss said. "Read the bounce of the ball. It's a lot quicker, too, so you have get ready every pitch, a little bit extra and really focus."
Morriss' focus helped him make four sterling defensive plays in the Larks' 8-5 loss to the Conejo (Calif.) Oaks in a winners' bracket contest on Friday night in the National Baseball Congress World Series. Morriss also reached base three times, collected two singles, a stolen base and drove in a run.
"I thought Jason Morriss had an excellent game defensively," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
Morriss, who carries a .317 average and leads Hays in games played (42), starts (42), at-bats (167), doubles (13), assists (130) and has made just seven errors, continued a strong summer Friday.
In the fourth, with Hays leading 5-3, Morriss started an inning-ending double play. Because of the high hops at Lawrence-Dumont, Morriss has to charge ground balls more frequently. He charged David Casey's ground ball, gloved the ball and considered tagging the runner. Instead, he turned, jumped and flipped the ball to shortstop Sean Wilson to start the double play.
"Easier to give it up to Sean," Morriss said.
In the fifth, Morriss ended another rally. With the bases loaded and two out, Calvin Lewis coaxed a ground ball up the middle from Jarred Frierson. Morriss back-handed the ball on a short hop near second base, turned and made the throw.
"Keep them from scoring two runs as well," Morriss said.
"He made a heckuva play," Leo added.
With Hays down 6-5, Morriss called a ground ball in the seventh "probably" the best play all summer. Kyle Jones hit a ground ball deep in the hole between first and second. He gloved the ball, turned, threw to first and beat Jones by a step. The PA system punctuated the putout with the ESPN "da-da-dum da-da-dum" over the loudspeaker.
"That has got to be the toughest play," Leo said. "Your momentum is going totally away from the base. To be able to stop and make that flip throw, that is pretty tough."
Morriss capped his night when he charged a grounder with two on and one out in the eighth.
"It's always nice to make good plays in an important part of the ball game," Morriss said.
Cooper rejoins Larks
Patrick Cooper enjoyed a terrific season with the 2008 Hays Larks, posting an 8-3 record and earning Jayhawk League Top Prospect honors from Baseball America Magazine. This summer, as a reliever for Falmouth, Cooper picked up Cape Cod League all-star honors and posted a 2-1 record, 0.66 earned-run average. He allowed two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings.
"I had a good time and I really enjoyed it," he said.
Cooper rejoined the Larks on Friday. He pitched the eighth and ninth innings and didn't permit a hard-hit ball. However, he permitted two runs on two singles and a squeeze bunt.
"I am pretty disappointed right now," he said.
In the eighth, Cooper kept Conejo's lead to 6-5 when he relieved Andy Lewton and struck out Kenny Hatcher with two men on to end the threat.
"It was one of those innings that just happen," Leo said. "He got that strikeout to get us out of the jam the inning before, and he looked pretty good."
In the ninth, Jake Fiss led off the inning with a single to center. Then, Conejo put on a hit-and-run and Walker Shaw delivered a perfectly-placed ground ball that put runners at first and third. After an RBI groundout, Kyle Jones delivered a squeeze bunt for the second run.
"Little baseball things," Leo said. "A couple of hit-and-run things that were just right. The squeeze bunt on a 2-0 count. It was a good call on their part. You have to throw a strike on 2-0 and you got a big bunt up there. That is a good choice."