By NICK McQUEEN
Throwing in the mid-90s when he's been on the mound, Hays Larks infielder Larry Rodriguez is used to blazing the ball to home plate.
In the final game with the Colorado Sox, though, Rodriguez filled in at shortstop for the first time, hoping to step up in the Larks' time of need due to a few injuries and giving some players the night off.
He got caught short-arming a couple times in Friday's game, but came through with a little redemption in the end.
Rodriguez, who committed two errors in the late innings -- one that helped Colorado rally in the eighth -- hit a no-doubter to left-center to end Friday night's marathon as the Larks won 10-9 in 13 innings on his walk-off home run, just his second hit of the summer. His first came earlier in Friday's game on a single.
"He's such a competitor, and I felt bad about making those two errors," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "There was no doubt about that one, though.
"He was determined to get a good pitch and hit it," Leo added. "He took care of business."
It was a night, though, that could have ended a little earlier as the Larks squandered a 9-4 lead in the eighth and ninth innings, taking most of the shine away from a big night for Ollie Goulder, in just his third game of the summer, and a near-triumphant return to the Larks' mound for former Hays High School, Fort Hays State University, and Hays Larks pitcher Landon Harper, who made a spot start in the non-Jayhawk League contest.
"We talked to him about it, and we needed him to just pitch a few innings for us, but he gave us an outstanding effort," Leo said of Harper, son of Hays High and Larks pitching coach Keith Harper. "It's kind of fun to see those -- I don't want to call them old guys, because I'm an old guy -- but it's kind of fun to see those former guys.
"It would have been nice to get him a win, but he saved us some arms, and did a fantastic job."
On the mound for the first time since making a spot start for the Larks in 2005, the 28-year old worked Harper seven innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on eight hits. He left the game with a 9-4 lead with the help of a three-run homer and two doubles from Goulder.
Making just his third appearance in a Larks uniform after taking a break following his spring season at Western Carolina, Goulder was 6-for-13 (.262) with three runs scored, a pair of home runs and four RBIs entering Saturday night's game with Liberal. He scored two runs Friday, the first on his three-run homer to right field that knotted the game at 4-4.
"It's nice to have Ollie back -- behind the plate or on the bench," Leo said. "He talks baseball, keeps the guys up, and it's just nice to have him back."
Goulder, who batted .279 with 11 home runs in the spring for Western Carolina, batted .276 for the Larks last summer.
"He was beat up and tired a little bit at the end of his spring season, and needed a little time off, so hopefully that's going to help us down the stretch," Leo said.
After Goulder tied things up, Cam Brown gave the Larks and Harper their first lead of the night in the sixth, on a solo shot, then Hays (10-4) opened things up with a four-run seventh to take a 9-4 lead.
But Hays newcomer Derrick Sampel struggled in his first appearance, flying in FRiday afternoon. The right-hander lasted just one out in the eighth, walking two, hitting a batter and surrendering four runs (one on a balk, another on an error), before handing the ball to Andy Lewton.
Lewton, who ended up pitching the remainder of the game, surrendered the tying run in the ninth as Colorado's Austin Roff scored on an error.
The Larks put two runners in scoring position in the ninth, but couldn't capitalize. Three times in the game, Hays left the bases loaded.
"Lot of opportunities in the late innings," Leo said.
Thanks to Lewton, Colorado never got a chance after the ninth. Lewton allowed two base runners in the final four innings, one on a single in the 12th, the other on Rodriguez's error in the 13th. Lewton (1-0) struck out five in 52βΡ3 innings, giving up one unearned run on three hits to get the win.
"Hats off to Andy Lewton. That's the best I've seen him in a number of years," Leo said. "Everything was down, his off-speed was working, and he just had an outstanding outing. We'll have to shut him down for a few days now, but he can build on that."
Andrew Heck and Brandon Eckerle were given Friday night off to prepare for the weekend series wit the Bee Jays, whch concludes with a game tonight at 7. ... Shortstop Elvin Rodriguez is still nursing an injury, and missed the series with the Sox, but Leo said he is making progress. ... Rob Elliott, the Bradley product and Larks' third baseman, was headed home after Friday's game, Leo said, to have his injured wrist examined. Leo said it was unlikely he would return. Elliott has played in eight games this summer, including Friday, and was batting .419 with four doubles, a homer and seven RBIs. ... For results of Saturday night's game with Liberal, go to larks.hdnews.net