By AUSTIN COLBERT
WICHITA -- If Hays Larks manager Frank Leo was to give anyone credit for ending the team's recent hitting slump, it would be Aaron Cornell.
And he didn't do it with his bat.
After Cornell reached base via an infield error in the third inning against the San Diego Stars on Monday, he stole second. Then he stole third. A bad throw from the catcher to third got by the third baseman, and Cornell was able to walk in for the game's first run.
"That's vintage Cornell," Leo said. "He's a guy that says, 'Hey, we are never going to give up. We are going to find ways to win.' And I think that was a message that was said to our offense."
Cornell's run was the start of an inspired effort by the Larks, who finally found some tournament success at the plate, getting 11 hits in a 6-2 win against the Stars in an elimination game at the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The Larks (35-12) had combined for two runs and eight hits in a split of their first two World Series games.
"The third day of seeing consistent at-bats is really what I think it is," said designated hitter Taylor Petersen. "We had to knock some cobwebs off because we were swinging like we had blindfolds on the first couple of games."
Hays wasn't exactly lighting it up in the early innings against San Diego, but was able to build some confidence and momentum thanks to mistakes by the Stars.
With two outs and nobody on in the fourth inning, San Diego starting pitcher Augie Lopez loaded the bases with a walk to Blair Beck, gave up a single to Spencer Neve and hit Cornell with a pitch. He then walked his final batter of the game, Jake Placzek, bringing Beck home to make it 2-0.
"We had a lot more walks today than the first two games combined. That makes it easier in getting ahead of counts," Petersen said. "We really took advantage of good counts and good swings today."
Hays starting pitcher Jason Zgardowski, along with a defense that turned multiple double plays, was key in the Larks holding on to a narrow lead until the late innings.
Zgardowski (5-3) pitched 7.1 innings, giving up one run while striking out three Star batters.
Any time San Diego hinted at getting runners in scoring position, the defense stepped up and made a great play behind Zgardowski to limit the Stars.
"Best team defense I've ever been on," Zgardowski said.
"All we have to do as pitchers is throw zeros and then our offense explodes today. It's a great feeling."
The Larks started to pour it on the final innings. With two outs and nobody on base in the seventh, Brent Gillespie drove a double to center, which Zair Koeiman followed with a single into right, scoring Gillespie.
After loading the bases, San Diego reliever Benji Waite threw a wild pitch, letting the runners advance, bringing Koeiman home to make it 4-1.
An inning later the offensive performance culminated when Petersen crushed a ball into left field for a double, bringing home Placzek and Clayton Garland in the process.
"I've been swinging absolutely rancid all tournament, so to finally put a swing on it and help the team feels good," said Petersen, who went 2 for 5 with 2 RBIs.
The win keeps the Larks alive in the tournament. They will have today off before playing the El Dorado Broncos on Wednesday.
"If we can just get that offense to get back to where it was in the summer, maybe we can make a run at this thing," Leo said.