RAYMOND HILLEGAS • Hays Daily News
Hays Larks catcher Jay Sanders, left, throws to first base for the out on a Dodge City runner during the fifth inning of Monday’s game at Larks Park.
Larks extend Jayhawk lead
By CONOR NICHOLL
The positive news from Monday night's contest is the Hays Larks defeated Dodge City, 3-1, at Larks Park. It gave Hays its sixth straight victory, kept the Larks in first place in the Jayhawk League, and bumped their home winning streak to 11 contests. Hays won its first low-scoring contest of the summer, and has not lost a home game since June 17. The Larks are 16-3 at Larks Park this season.
"Very proud of how they are grinding through this tough stretch," manager Frank Leo said.
However, the bad news could potentially hurt Hays the rest of the season. The Larks, beset by injuries all summer, might have lost starting catcher Austin Jarvis for the year because of an aggravated hip flexor injury sustained Saturday. Leo said a decision would be made sometime today on Jarvis' season.
Leo labeled Jarvis, an outstanding defensive player, the "best catcher we've ever had," in his 32 years. Then, backup Jay Sanders started Monday, but had to leave the game early because of a right (throwing) hand injury. Sanders was hit early in the game, managed to catch a few more innings and then departed.
Leo said Sanders had an MRI on Monday night.
Brett Lang finished the contest and is currently Hays' only catcher.
The Larks will play at Dodge City and Liberal tonight and Wednesday, respectively, before a day off Thursday.
"We need a catcher, we need a catcher that can throw," Leo said. "You can't get by. We have nobody to go to the bullpen to help out in the bullpen, so we have got to find a catcher for emergency purposes. Lang the next two days is going to have to be an iron man for us."
This weekend, Hays has a three-game home series against Derby before the regular season finale versus Dodge City on July 25. The National Baseball Congress World Series starts July 27.
"We have a day off Thursday, gives us a few days to try to get one in here as quick as we can," Leo added. "If Jay is done, too, then, we have got to get two catchers. Catching is a tough spot and you get in the tournament and you start playing everyday in that heat, you need to have some depth at the catching spot."
Jarvis, from Bradley (Ill.) University, was on the final list for the Johnny Bench Award this spring, an honor given to the top collegiate catcher. He carried a .276 average, but had thrown out 13-of-22 runners (59.1 percent) trying to steal.
Sanders and Lang have combined to throw out 3-of-27 (11.1 percent) base runners.
Sanders and Lang handled the pitching staff well Monday, and Lang, batting .317, delivered an RBI single for the game's final run. Patrick Flanagan (2-1) worked six innings for the victory, while Colton Reavis saved his fifth contest and hasn't allowed a run this summer in 16 1/3 innings.
As well, starting pitcher Alex Ellison is done for the year because of off-the-field issues, and Andy Lewton, a former pitcher for Hays High, Fort Hays State University, and the Larks, rejoined the team for depth down the stretch.
"It's just a tribute to these guys how they have stepped up," Leo said. "Sometimes when your back is against the wall, you find out the true champions and the guys that can really work hard and grind it out and we are seeing it in this club right now."
Hays moved to 24-10, 18-10 in the Jayhawk League, while Dodge City slipped to 21-12, 16-11. The Larks improved to 3-2 against the A's this summer and can clinch the season series tonight.
"They pitched very well and they played very good defense, and in this ballpark, those are two very important things, because the ball goes nowhere here with the wind blowing out of the south," Dodge City manager Phil Stephenson said. "...We didn't play hard today, we didn't come out ready to play today. We will turn some things around and get back after it."
This season, Hays has averaged 6.9 runs a game and is within striking distance of several club records, including hit by pitches (39) and on-base percentage (.390). Monday marked the first time all season Hays won scoring fewer than five runs. The Larks were 0-7 in games when they scored less than five runs this season.
"It helps us for the long (term)," shortstop Elvin Rodriguez said. "It's not always going to be easy like when we score a lot. It's nice to have these games and win them."
Hays tallied a run in the first, while Dodge City tied the game in the fourth. The Larks ended the threat on a double play ball. Second baseman Zair Koeiman fielded the ball near the second base bag. He didn't take the ball out of his glove. Instead, he flipped the ball with his glove. The shortstop completed the double play. It's a play the duo has worked on in batting practice.
"It's just improvising," Rodriguez said. "I know he was going to do something. I didn't know it was going to be that. You have got to be ready for anything with that kind of player defensively."
Hays broke the tie in the fifth in the fifth on a Rodriguez single, sacrifice bunt and RBI single from Mackenzie Handel. The Larks scored their final run on Lang's single in the sixth. Leo labeled the game "a good win," but couldn't enjoy it very much. The manager knew he had to start making phone calls to find replacements.