By CONOR NICHOLL
The Hays Larks knew the time for their second-round game at the NBC World Series in Wichita. They will play tonight at 10 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
However, they didn't know who they would play until about 9 a.m. today. Wednesday night, the Seattle Studs were leading the Casa Grande (Ariz.) Cotton Kings 4-3 in the sixth inning when the game was suspended until 8 a.m. today. Seattle went on to win 9-4 in a contest that ended at about 9 a.m.
Seattle versus Hays will mark a matchup of two of the top teams in recent World Series history. Left-hander Kirk Jewasko (3-3, 4.30 ERA) is Hays' probable starter.
Hays has finished fourth four times, in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2007. Seattle has two runner-up finishes, in 2008 and 2010. Both teams rank in the top-20 all-time in NBC finals appearances. Since 1998, only Hays, Seattle, Anchorage (Alaska), Santa Barbara (Calif.) and Liberal have made at least two trips to the championship round.
"This whole bracket we are in, we can't look down several legs in that bracket," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "We just got to focus, and we talked about this before the start of the tournament. Seattle is a great team. We have had some great battles with them. It will be fun."
In 2001, the Larks never lost until the championship round. That year started a 10-year streak of first-round victories for Hays, a run that continued with a 6-5, 12-inning victory against Crestwood (Ill.) on Monday. However, the Larks are 3-5 in second-round contests since 2001, including losses in 2008 and 2009. Hays didn't qualify for the World Series last summer.
Hays has met Seattle three times in the last eight tournaments. The Larks won 4-0 in 2007 and lost 4-1 in 2006. Hays won 9-2 in 2003.
Big game for Rodriguez
Larks shortstop Elvin Rodriguez is known for his sparkling defense. On Monday, his defense and bat helped Hays earn the victory. Rodriguez had seven assists and three putouts in the field, including several that elicited cheers from a large Larks crowd. In the ninth, he made a strong play up the middle. In the 12th, he caught a line drive to end the inning.
"His hands worked well today," Leo said. "His feet worked well today. He was in a rhythm just like a pitcher gets in a rhythm. He was in a great rhythm on defense."
Rodriguez went 2-for-5 at the plate and delivered a sacrifice bunt in the 12th inning that helped score the winning run. After a leadoff single from MacKenzie Handel, a balk and a walk, Rodriguez delivered a short bunt where the only play was to first base. After another intentional walk, Cody Gougler won the game with a single.
"I thought Elvin had a great day defensively," Leo said. "Went left and right, made some plays. On his sac bunt, there is only one place where he could put it unless he drove it by the first baseman. The first baseman was halfway in to start. He had to get it down the third-base line. That kid was throwing pretty hard. He gets the sac bunt and sets up the inning for us."
Handel comes through
For nearly every player on the Larks roster, this year marks their first experience at the World Series. For Handel, his first at-bat came in extra innings -- and he came through, eventually scoring the winning run.
"The entire game, he was pacing up and around the dugout, waiting for his chance," Gougler said. "You could just see the passion in his eyes. You knew he wanted to get in there and get it done. This is the first time he has played on a big stage like this. You could just see that he wanted to get out there and be a part of it. He stepped in there for us and got it started. That was the spark."