By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University catcher/designated hitter Sloan Soulia had modest expectations when he started the summer with the Hays Larks. Manager Frank Leo had brought in four catchers, including last year's starter, Ollie Goulder.
"I knew there would be other catchers here and I was hoping to get in about every other game, maybe more if possible, depending on if I was playing well or not," he said.
Soulia, an all-conference and all-region player in the spring for FHSU, delivered a solid summer and played in 23 contests with 19 starts. Among the four catchers, Soulia saw the most at-bats (81) and carried the highest batting average (.284). His on-base percentage (.326) and slugging percentage (.469) ranked second to Goulder. Soulia's average was the best by a FHSU player with the Larks since Dallas Christison hit .357 in 2006.
"This summer, swinging wood is obviously a lot different than an swinging aluminum bat and my focus has been to stay short to the ball and hit line drives and not get long," Soulia said.
By the end of the summer, Soulia and Goulder were rotating behind the plate. Soulia, the lone FHSU position player on this season's roster, caught two of the final three contests, including Mark Phillips' no-hitter against Derby on Monday.
"I have enjoyed it a lot," he said. "Some real good baseball and I think I am getting better as a player."
Cody Gougler, a first baseman/outfielder from Southeastern Louisiana University, finished the summer with a .284 average and led the Larks in on-base percentage (.459), walks (31) and hit by pitches (eight).
He was the lone Lark to have more walks than strikeouts. Because of the Larks playing just 38 games (10 fewer than last year), Gougler missed reaching the top-10 leaderboard for single season walks by five.
"Cody is an on-base guy and he will put the ball in play when he needs to," Leo said. "He is an ideal two-hole type hitter, but we had to bounce around so much. He batted second and fifth. We had guys striking out a lot. We tried to break up the strikeout guys. He is another valuable guy to have and he is a good ambassador to the game."
Martin finishes as leading hitter
Brian Martin was a late pickup from NCAA Division I Bradley (Ill.) University, but finished as the Larks' top hitter with a .395 average. Martin, 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, usually batted third and was second on the squad with 16 stolen bases and 16 extra base hits.
"He runs really well and he is a good Division I player," Dodge City head coach Phil Stephenson said. "...He swings the bat pretty well, he has some success. He has hit some balls several times, I don't know how he reached them."
Leonhardt has strong finish
Zak Leonhardt, an Angelo State (Tex.) University product, struggled nearly all summer and hit .250 with more strikeouts (16) than hits (14). However, he delivered a superb contest in the season's biggest highlight -- Phillips' no-hitter on Monday night.
Leonhardt went 3-for-3 with a RBI, two doubles and a walk. At third base, he raced in and made a strong throw on a second inning bunt, one of the closest chances Derby had to a base hit.
"We have seen the defense from him before," Leo said. "He is a pretty solid defensive third baseman. We have seen some signs of him maybe being an offensive guy. ... (Monday), he had four great at-bats. Even the at-bat he walked, he fouled off some pitches and he was right in the zone."