Larks win comfortable at NBC
By NICK McQUEEN
WICHITA -- It took four games, but the Hays Larks got the comfortable win they had been looking for.
After playing in three one-run games in their first three outings at the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, the Larks pulled away for a 9-2 victory Sunday against the Tulsa (Okla.) Braves in the elimination bracket.
"This tournament is such a grind over two weeks in the conditions you have to play in," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "Mentally, it's tough when you have all those one-run ball games.
"This is kind of nice to get a little cushion. We had some clutch hits today, and we were proud of the offensive picking it up."
Since losing its first-round game last Monday, Hays (32-12) had squeaked by with a pair of 3-2 wins to stay alive, relying on solid pitching from its starters.
On Sunday, the Larks got solid pitching and key hits with runners in scoring position.
Aaron Breit, who was added to the Larks' roster for the NBC, pitched seven innings, surrendering four hits and one run on a solo home run in the sixth inning.
Breit, the 26-year-old former Thomas More Prep-Marian Monarch and former professional player in the San Diego Padres organization (AA), struck out eight batters through seven innings with just one walk in his first game back in a Larks uniform since 2005.
It was the fourth deep start the Larks had in as many games.
"Our pitching continues to be outstanding," Leo said."(Breit) is a very experienced pitcher. We knew he was going to be in the pen early, but if we got to the fourth game, we knew it was going to be Aaron's."
It helped to have a good defense behind him, including a highlight-reel game for shortstop Elvin Rodriguez, especially in the fourth inning.
Tulsa's Taylor Alspaugh led off the inning with a single, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. On the next batter, instead of making the easy out at first, Rodriguez put out the lead runner with a low throw to third baseman Joe Betcher that was spot on for the unforced out.
"Elvin made that play look easy, and that's not an easy throw," Leo said. "You have to get around the runner, and the runner is close to the base.
"It was right on the money. It was down low. That really turned out to be a big inning for us."
Rodriguez then turned a double play, grabbing a liner to short, and catching Tulsa runner Garrett Schaede off the bag at first.
Meanwhile, the Larks' offense broke through for the first time. Despite leaving nine runners stranded, the Larks plated two runs in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, then three more in the ninth for the victory.
The first two came with two outs in the fifth inning of a scoreless ball game.
"On the defensive end, when you see two-out rallies and score, that really gains big-time momentum," Leo said. "We did that a couple innings back-to-back."
With two outs in the fifth, Rodriguez earned a walk, then Aaron Cornell had a single in the top of the order. Zair Koeiman made the effort worthwhile with a two-RBI single on a 2-1 pitch.
In the sixth inning, Brett Lang came through with a two-RBI double that scored Ryan Busboom and Betcher. In the seventh, Tito Andino, who has only 44 at-bats this season, had a two-RBI double with two outs, scoring Austin Darby and Betcher.
"When you get to this point in the tournament, everyone has to be ready when called upon," Leo said. "You may not be getting very many reps, but when you do get those reps off the bench, they are critical, and you have to be ready to go."
Andino finished 1 for 3 with three RBIs, while Rodriguez scored two runs, going 1 for 3.
Cornell and Lang each had two hits.
The game earned the Larks a spot in today's 10 p.m. elimination game against the Hutchinson Monarchs. Justin Ziegler, who threw a complete game in the 2-1 loss to the Greeley (Colo.) Grays to begin the tourney, will get the start.
All five representatives for the Jayhawk League still are alive heading into today's round. Haysville plays former Jayhawk member Nevada (Mo.) in the 5 p.m. game, while Dodge City plays Liberal in the feature game at 7:30 p.m.