By CONOR NICHOLL
WICHITA -- Hays Larks right-hander Andrew Heck recently watched an NFL show where the commentators discussed player traits, such as competitiveness and leadership skills, that couldn't be seen on film or in statistics. Heck thought of himself when he saw the program.
"I feel like those are two things that I really try to go out and do every single time I go out on the baseball field," he said. "I try to compete every pitch and try to lead by example."
On Saturday morning, Heck exhibited those characteristics in a 7-0 NBC World Series victory at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium against Walker Transmission, a team from Denver. The two teams had to battle through a bizarre set of circumstances, but Heck pitched a complete-game shutout.
The Larks will play today at 5 p.m. against the winner of Saturday night's game between the San Diego Force and the Clarinda A's. Right-hander Pepe Gomez (1-2) is the probable starter for Hays (30-17).
"That's the Andrew Heck I know, (pitching) coach (Keith) Harper knows," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
"You couldn't have a better guy through the adverse conditions that we had to fight to finish this ball game. Plus, a big game, the first game of the losers' bracket, you couldn't have picked a better guy to get the job done for you."
The game was originally scheduled for 12:30 a.m. Saturday, but started 67 minutes late when the previous games went long. Heck, a four-year Lark who was the ace in 2008 and 2009, looked to play professional baseball, but wasn't drafted and hadn't signed with a team. He joined the club in late summer and went 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts.
"We brought him back here for a reason, and that reason was to help us advance in this tournament and that was our biggest game right there," Leo said. "Lose that one and there is no more tomorrow. Real easy decision (to start him). We know what we got with Andrew Heck. He is going to compete, he is going to work fast, and he is going to throw strikes."
Heck had a perfect first inning against Walker, a team in its seventh year of existence making its first NBC trip. Walker (30-21-1) finished fourth in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League on the strength of an offense that hit .321 and averaged 6.3 runs a game.
Then, the rain started and the game was postponed at 1:42 a.m. For the next 50 minutes, as lightning flashed across the sky, the two teams passed the time with various activities that delighted the fans, including a dance off, the Macarena and Larks' center fielder Aaron Cornell dancing to "Thriller" near Hays' dugout.
At 3:01 a.m., officials postponed the game until 6 a.m. The Larks went back to the team hotel, where they had some food, energy drinks and tried to stay awake. Leo said NBC officials were "dead bent" on getting the game in and not backing up the start time to allow the players more time to rest.
"I have only been on a couple road trips with these guys, but I figured out that they can stay up past 4, 6 in the morning," Heck said with a smile.
Once the game resumed at 6:25 a.m., Heck felt a little tightness and lost a few miles per hour off his usual 86 to 78 mile an hour fastball. Still, he threw his changeup effectively, mixed 86 strikes with 120 pitches and permitted four hits and one walk in nine innings. He coaxed 12 ground-ball outs and the defense turned two double plays.
Heck moved to 3-1 with a 1.44 ERA in 312βΡ3 career innings at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and 15-2 overall in his Hays career. He became the first pitcher in the first 33 games of the tournament to throw nine shutout innings.
"His tempo on the mound today," Transmission manager Rick Walker said of Heck's effectiveness. "He worked fast, got out there. There wasn't much time to try and change the pace. He dominated."
Helped by three Walker errors, Hays scored three runs in the second against losing pitcher Vince Ramirez. The Larks scored their first two runs on a bases-loaded ground ball to third baseman Nick Billinger, who fielded, spun and threw wild to home. The Larks tacked on two more in the fourth and eighth, plenty for Heck.