By CONOR NICHOLL
In the last few days, the Hays Larks lost ace left-hander Shawn Lewick to the Wichita Wingnuts, an independent baseball team.
Joey Begel, the team's No. 2 starter, was bumped up to Friday and again struggled with control and command. Hays trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the first before it eventually led 5-4 entering the ninth.
Then, with runners at second and third and two outs in the top of the ninth, right-handed reliever Colton Reavis battled with 6-foot-5, 290-pound El Dorado first baseman Daniel Baptista. After several foul balls, Reavis threw an offspeed pitch and coaxed a game-ending ground ball at Larks Park.
"Life in the Jayhawk League," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
The 5-4 victory helped erase some of the recent struggles and moved Hays to 15-8, 9-8 in the Jayhawk League, in the first home game since June 21. The Larks went 1-4 on a road trip last week. El Dorado dropped to 15-10, 10-10 in league play. Hays moved to third place with the victory, while El Dorado dropped to fourth. The two were set to play again Saturday night.
"We've got to figure it out that it's a nine inning game and we can't have any lapses," Leo said. "I think we did that tonight."
In all four road losses, Hays trailed after six innings. In three of the games, the Larks trailed after the first or second. Hays eventually rallied, but fell short. Friday produced a different result.
El Dorado scored three in the first inning, but Hays responded with two in the first and single runs in the second, fourth and eighth. Center fielder Aaron Cornell broke the tie with a RBI double in the eighth.
"It's unbelievably good to see your hitters battle and get big hits in big situations," Begel said. "I think that's the only thing that went wrong on the road. We just weren't situational hitting. I feel we had situational hitting tonight. It's good to see us fight through a whole game and not just a few innings."
The Larks had to adjust after Lewick left the team. Lewick was Fort Hays State University's senior ace this spring and collected all-MIAA honorable mention honors. This summer, he was 2-0 with a 1.37 earned-run average in 26 1/3 innings.
Lewick became the first FHSU player to sign to play professionally since left-hander Eric Gilliland in 2009. Lewick's loss gives Hays three open roster spots. Claudio Valencia went home with a wrist injury last week and the Larks have had a vacant roster spot all summer for some flexibility.
"We are not just going to grab somebody," Leo said. "Replacing Shawn Lewick is going to be tough because he brought such a fierce competitiveness that rubbed off on other guys."
Leo said he knew of Lewick's "possibilities" for about a week. On Wednesday night, Leo had a voicemail from Lewick. Lewick had tried out for the injury-plagued Wingnuts on Wednesday.
"They really liked him and they were going to sign him, so Thursday is when Joey found that we were going to have to change things up," Leo said. "It wasn't much time to prepare, but he is a veteran guy and he can handle that."
Lewick struggled in his Wingnuts' debut Friday when he allowed 11 hits and nine runs (all earned) in five innings in a 9-1 loss.
In his place, Begel worked six innings, allowing six hits and three runs with two strikeouts against four walks. Begel, who arrived late this summer from University of Illinois-Chicago because of a forearm issue, is 1-1 with a 3.18 earned-run average in three starts. However, he has walked 13 in 17 innings.
"I am kind of mentally messed up right now, finding myself out here, I don't know what it is," Begel said. "...It's just taking each pitch at a time and not looking at the big picture."
The Larks battled back with a two-run double from Austin Darby in the first and a game-tying sacrifice fly from Jon Ryan in the second. Hays took the lead in the fourth on a walk, a perfect hit-and-run single from Cornell and a sacrifice fly by Zair Koeiman.
El Dorado tied the score in the seventh off Jake McDavid, but Hays took the lead in the eighth on back-to-back doubles from Elvin Rodriguez and Cornell, his team-leading eighth of the summer. Cornell, the reigning Jayhawk League Player of the Year, has struggled with a .247 average and has mainly batted ninth in recent games.
"His swing is getting better," Leo said. "He needs to relax. He has gone through a rough spell this spring where he didn't get a lot of at-bats. Maybe today will kind of get him relaxed and get after it. He can create some havoc."
Reavis kept his ERA at 0.00 with his ninth scoreless outing and team-high third save of the season for Jason Heflin (2-0). El Dorado had two runners in scoring position, but Reavis ended the threat.