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Offense boosts Eagles to another win

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Hayden Hutchison leads the Hays Senior Legion baseball team in virtually every statistic, including a .491 batting average. He finished 2 of 6 with two RBIs and a run scored, though did line out hard twice Thursday night.

Kade Parker had the third-best average on the team at .383, but didn't hit because coach Brad Kelly used Cameron Klaus as the designated hitter for Parker, the game's starting pitcher.

Still, the rest of the Eagles' offense delivered in a big way for the second straight contest. Hays collected 18 hits, including five from Chandler Rule and three apiece by John Griffith and Layne Downing, and delivered a 16-4 victory against Finney County in the championship bracket semifinal of the Class AAA state tournament at Larks Park. The game was called after eight innings because of the mercy rule.

"It's huge when you have other people step up," Griffith said. "(Hayden) has been the catalyst for our offense the entire year, there is no doubt about that. When you have other people step up, that is huge for your team."

Hays trailed 2-0 after the first inning, then tallied one in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth, four in the fifth, three in the sixth and five in the eighth. The Eagles moved to 26-17 and joined Pittsburg as the only 2-0 teams left in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament. Hays leads the tournament in scoring by a wide margin and has defeated its first two opponents 28-6 combined. Kade Parker (5-2) threw a complete game for the win.

"It's a mentality thing," Griffith said. "We realize that it's win or go home. We are just really going up to the plate with a plan. We are seeing some results, because we are going up there with a different mentality than we've probably had all year, and it's really helping us."

Hays, the defending state champion, needs to win two more contests to capture another state crown. The Eagles will play Pittsburg at 5 p.m. today, while Finney County plays in a consolation game around noon. Clayton Basgall is the scheduled starter for Hays.

"When you are on a roll like we kind of are right now, especially offensively, you just want to keep playing, and kind of stay in that groove, and luckily for us, we get to play again tomorrow and hopefully our bats stay hot," Eagles coach Brad Kelly said.

Finney County coach Lyle Befort missed Thursday's game because of school in-service and will likely miss today's contest, too. Assistant coach Kirk Dechant helped run the Blues (28-9).

"He and I are pretty much on the same page," Dechant said. "Put it on the field, and go from there."

Garden City started Mario Montoya, who has kept opponents off-balance with his slower speeds this season. Montoya (4-1) worked out of the first inning when Hutchison lined into a double play.

In the bottom of the first, the Blues delivered two runs off an infield single, an error on a bunt, a clear obstruction call on a ground ball at second base, a walk and a force out.

"I was wound tight there at the beginning," Kelly said. "These games are so important. If you are going to win a state championship, you have to win your first two. Our guys did a good job of probably calming me down more than anything else."

In the second, Rule started a rally with a leadoff single. He advanced to second on a Montoya throwing error on a pickoff and scored on a Griffith single.

"Hays is a good hitting team, and Mario has had some success in the past against guys that are good hitting teams," Dechant said. "But he is like any pitcher. He has to hit his spots, and he needs all of his pitches going, and he didn't have all of his pitches going. The curveball wasn't working. It was mostly fastballs and trying to place them."

Griffith, a WaKeeney-Trego graduate, can't play spring baseball because the Golden Eagles don't offer the sport.

A standout football and basketball player and Tabor College basketball signee, Griffith is in his first season of varsity baseball.

He has struck out a team-high 39 times, but carries a .317 average because of a .464 average on balls in play. Kelly said Griffith has one of the squad's quicker bat speeds and has seen the left-handed Griffith often hit batting practice homers, though Griffith has not homered.

"You keep on waiting that it is going to happen in a game sometime, and people are going to ooh and aah about it a little bit, but his ball does travel far when he squares it up," Kelly said.

He collected a run-scoring single and scored in the fifth and singled and scored in the sixth.

"It's all about your hands being quick and everything like that," Griffith said. "I don't think I have ever had anybody tell me to swing harder. It's just kind of one of those things that when I am making contact with the ball, it is going to come out with some pop. It's just kind of how I have always hit the ball."

In the fifth, Rule, who bats fourth behind Hutchison, led off the inning with a double, one of five hits and two doubles in the inning. In the sixth, Rule again led off the inning. This time, he singled, one of four straight base hits to start the inning.

"I can't really express how big it is for us," Kelly said. "We need guys across the lineup. It just can't be Hayden all the time. ... Any time we can multiple guys going like we did tonight, we are a dangerous ball club."