By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA - Last year, catcher Sloan Soulia had a solid summer with the Hays Larks. He split time behind the plate and carried a line of .284/.326/469 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line in 81 at-bats. In the spring, he earned all-conference honors for the second straight year for Fort Hays State University.
This summer, Soulia hoped to catch on with a professional team and even tried out with the Wichita Wingnuts. Soulia never signed and rejoined the Larks. He delivered a stronger summer than 2010 and finished the year with a solid game in a 7-6 loss to Clarinda (Iowa) on Sunday night at the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the Wingnuts' home park.
Soulia batted 303/353/579 in 76 at-bats. He went 1-for-4 in a first round win against Crestwood (Ill.) last Monday.
Soulia sat the next two games in favor of Rick Stover before he returned to the lineup against Clarinda. Soulia, always known for his quick bat and power, finished 2-for-4 with a double, triple and three RBIs. He hit .375 in the World Series and led the Larks in slugging percentage (.750) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.194).
After a strikeout in his first at-bat, Soulia delivered a two-run double to left-center in third inning. In the fifth, Soulia nearly had the Larks' first homer of the tournament. He blasted a RBI triple that hit off the center field wall on the fly, nearly 400 feet from home plate. Soulia was also hit by a pitch in the seventh and reached on an error in the ninth, Hays' last base runner of the season.
"I am happy for Sloan," manager Frank Leo said. "I don't know if he will put a uniform on again. Hopefully maybe he gets a chance, but he gave us a great shot today. Gave us a chance to win behind the plate. Did a good job and offensively, he carried us."
DH in flux
No Larks' position saw as much change as designated hitter. In the first game, Tito Andino started at DH, but was replaced by MacKenzie Handel in the 11th inning. Handel led off the 12th with a single that turned out to be the winning run. Handel started the next two contests at DH.
On Sunday, Andrew Heck, a four-year Lark and veteran of three NBC World Series, was the DH. He led the second inning with a single. He tried to stretch the play into a double, but slid past the bag and was tagged out. Heck threw his helmet down in frustration and was ejected. Handel replaced Heck and went 0-for-2. Andino pinch-hit in the seventh and was hit by a pitch. He grounded out in the ninth to end the game.
Overall, the DH slot went .294 (5-for-17) for the tournament.
"Close game, we get him on base, something good could happen," Leo said of the speedy Andino. "He can steal bases. He can score sometimes on a deep single, he is so quick. We are looking for something, some kind of excitement. Mac has done a great job for us all year long. He has struggled a little bit late."
Jayhawk League update
Hays and Derby are eliminated from tournament play, while Haysville and Liberal are still alive. Haysville won 10-1 in seven innings in a loser's bracket game on Sunday afternoon. Liberal started the tournament 2-0, but lost to Valley Center on Saturday, 5-1. Clarinda will play Liberal on Monday.