By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Hays Larks ace pitcher Patrick Cooper signed with the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, a move that brought an end to one of the best pitching careers by a Lark in manager Frank Leo's 30 years.

Cooper, 10-3 with a 2.41 earned-run average, had earned a bevy of awards in his three years with Hays, including first team all-Jayhawk League and Jayhawk League Top Prospect honors by Baseball America. Cooper was drafted last year, but didn't sign. This summer, Cooper wanted to come Hays and pitch for as long as he could before starting his professional career.

"He got his package that he wanted, $75,000, one year of school," Leo said. "That's what he was holding out for. They came through with it today, no questions asked all of a sudden. I knew that if we had him for two weeks we would be fortunate. The good thing for us, he was able to give us a couple of starts where we try to piece this pitching staff together. It was a long shot to keep him for the whole summer, let alone for the month of June."

With the Larks short on arms, Cooper started three games, posting a 1-1 record and 4.76 E.R.A. He was drafted in the 14th round by the Tigers last week in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. While negotiating, though, Cooper still pitched for Hays, a program and town that he greatly enjoyed. When Cooper departed, Leo told the right-hander "thanks for the effort."

"He gave us some quality time on the mound and I appreciate that," Leo said. "It's just Cooper. He is a Lark true and true."

Pitching staff thin

The Larks' home game Thursday night against non-league opponent Junction City was rained out after one and a half innings and the Generals ahead 2-0. Rain and hail pelted the field at 7:36 p.m., and the game was called 18 minutes later. The contest will not be made up.

Hays (4-2, 2-2 Jayhawk League) was expected to team-pitch the contest and see several arms that either hadn't pitched or had pitched very little this summer. Instead, an already depleted staff might be pushed in this weekend's road series against El Dorado (9-3, 2-3 Jayhawk League), the reigning Jayhawk League and National Baseball Congress World Series champions. Leo said the Larks have room to add three pitchers.

Currently, Liberal has a 27-man roster with 12 pitchers. Haysville has a 29-player roster. Leo expects El Dorado to have a large roster, too. Hays, hurt by several pre-summer injuries and other conflicts, has just 19 players.

"That is too small to survive in the thick of a Jayhawk League race," Leo said.

Before the summer started, Trent Wilson, a Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College product who saved 13 games in the spring, underwent labrum surgery and missed the summer. Two other pitchers didn't come to Hays because of summer school and a torn ligament.

"Those are the arms that we have to go replace, plus Cooper," Leo said.

In addition, Larks closer Mark Phillips, a Gonzaga (Wash.) University product, will miss the next five games because of a wedding and family functions in Colorado Springs. Phillips is 0-0 with a 1.35 E.R.A in a team-high five appearances and two saves, a Larks' best.

"He looked really good out of the pen against Liberal," Leo said. "He has been our go-to guy and he is going to have to be that guy. This weekend, we are going to look at Larry Rodriguez to do that."

Rainouts hurting schedule

The Larks have played in only six full games this season. They have lost three games to rain and had another contest suspended in the eighth inning because of high winds and electrical failure.

"The hitters can't get consistent," Leo said. "We need to get out and we need to play and we need to see game-type pitching and get some type of rhythm and we are not able to do that."

On the pitching end, it is kind of working into our favor right now because we don't have a deep staff, but things are going to back up. Tonight's game is non-league, so we are not going to make it up. Things are going to back up at some point if we keep getting rain and then we are going to need a deep pitching staff. The biggest thing that it's hurting right now is our hitters."

Brown drives in 10 runs

On Tuesday night, Cam Brown drove in 10 runs for the Larks in a 15-8 victory against Liberal. The Larks don't track single game RBIs, but Leo couldn't remember the last time a player drove in 10 runs. Doug Dreher, one of the Larks' assistant coaches, said he drove in eight runs as a player. The Major League record is 12, held by several players.

"He was just hot and when a hitter is hot like him, and he is a good hitter to begin with, he was seeing the ball big and he was aggressive," Leo said. "You can tell when they are seeing it big because their cuts look so good. Fortunately for us, every time he was up, there was men on base, they couldn't pitch around him. Sometimes with bases loaded or first and second and we dealt to our hot hand and he came through for us. That's a lot of RBIs. That's a career, that's a season for some guys. In one game, that's unbelievable."