By CONOR NICHOLL
The lore of "Larks magic" has permeated the Hays Larks' program and its fan base for more than a decade. Strange and unique events have sometimes occurred at Larks Park that have allowed the Larks to earn a win. Wednesday night provided another chapter.
Hays trailed 5-1 entering the bottom of the sixth against Colorado, but tallied a run when Mackenzie Handel hit a fly ball down the right field line. Bob Terry ran over, but the ball tipped off his glove. The play was ruled a double and Handel scored.
In the seventh, several oddities and a two-run homer from Zair Koeiman allowed the Larks to pull off a 6-5 non-league victory against the Sox at Larks Park. Hays won the second game of the doubleheader, 23-2.
"They talk a lot about Larks' magic and they haven't had much of it this summer, but we got a little bit in the seventh inning," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "That's good to see and hopefully that's something that's going to continue. In this game, you've got to have some luck and get some bounces sometimes."
Because of the doubleheader and Colorado being a non-league opponent, Leo played many of his backups in the first contest. However, he made a couple late inning changes, including bringing in Koeiman to play second base.
With one out in the seventh, center fielder Aaron Cornell singled. Then Koeiman, the team leader with a .552 on-base percentage, .756 slugging percentage and four homers, lined a two-run homer down the right field line that narrowly cleared the wall. The blast cut the gap to 5-4.
"We got ourselves in that position (to win) by doing some good things," Leo said. "... We were going to play to win. We had to bring the horses out of the barn so to speak in the seventh inning to pull it out. We are not out here to lose. We are going to play to win. We had to get some guys some reps, but when it came to crunch time, we went after it."
Handel followed with a bloop single that barely cleared the shortstop's glove. He moved to second on a wild pitch.
"That's the way the game of baseball is," Leo said. "There is a lot of area out there. It seems like sometimes on the offensive end, they've got 25 guys playing defense and you can't ever find a hole.
"Tonight, the grass was very friendly to us," he added. "We had balls drop and find holes. It's something that you don't want to run it all out in one ball game, you want to try to stretch out and keep some of that luck for other games, but we enjoyed it tonight. You've got to enjoy this game, because it is a tough game."
Then Jon Ryan hit a ground ball to shortstop Cody Hastings. Handel took off for third and Hastings turned and threw to third base. The throw was short and hit the lip where turf meets dirt. The ball skipped past third base and Handel scored to tie the game. Two walks loaded the bases.
"Made a bad throw at third and we just got lucky there," Ryan said.
Ryan Busboom pinch-hit and swung and missed on a 1-1 pitch. However, the ball got away from catcher Mark Ortivez and Ryan raced home for the winning run.
"I saw it get by the catcher and kind of kick up far enough to where I can score and be safe," Ryan said. "I was getting a big lead at third just in case there was a passed ball."
Braden Ham took the loss for the Sox, while Claudio Valencia earned the win in relief.
"It's pretty weird," Ryan said. "You can only describe it as Larks' magic."
In Game 2, Hays (12-4) set a season-high in runs scored against Colorado (6-9). Hays scored in every inning, including an eight-run first and five runs in the third and fifth. Three pitchers combined to allow just three hits and no earned runs. The Larks had 20 hits, including four homers. Austin Darby, the team leader with a .417 average and 17 RBIs, hit two, while Ryan and Austin Jarvis also homered. Darby and Ryan, left-handed hitters, used a favorable breeze and the short porch in right field for their blasts.
"We have been putting some good swings on it," Leo said. "Our lefties have been fighting the wind in their face the past three days and squared a lot of balls up that would have got out of the park and didn't. It was good for them to be able to get that wind behind them tonight."
The second of Darby's homers easily cleared the scoreboard in right-center field. Ryan, who hit a team-high 10 homers last season and missed the first part of the year because of a back issue, hit his first homer of the year.
"Wind started to change here, so we were kind of going for home runs today, just giving it all we got," Ryan said.
As well, Dusty Washburn, a former All-American at Fort Hays State University, Larks' first baseman and current first base coach, made an appearance. Washburn collected two singles in Game 2 and is 4-for-4 the last two seasons. Hays will complete the three-game series with a single game tonight against Colorado.