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Liberal hands Larks first loss, 6-0

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Hays Larks manager Frank Leo believes the key to summer baseball is how long a team can play without suffering key injuries. The Larks have several injuries, including second baseman Zair Koeiman (groin), who is expected to miss all of the homestand that stretches through this weekend.

On Wednesday, Larks relief pitcher Connor Sjolander went down with a likely elbow injury in Hays' 6-0 home conference loss to Liberal at Larks Park. The game was called in the bottom of the seventh inning due to high winds and rain. It marked Hays' first loss of the season and dropped the Larks to 8-1, 5-1 Jayhawk League. Liberal moved to 6-3, 2-3.

"It was just one of those nights. Their guy was very good, and when you are going against a guy very good, you are going to have to match him," Leo said of Liberal starter Robert Dugger. "We weren't able to do that. Our matchup tonight wasn't set up for that. Tip your hat to that guy. He pitched very well, and dominated us. Didn't walk anybody, and made pitches when he had to."

Because of injuries and using Nate Olinger, also a position player, as the starting pitcher, Hays had just one reserve, Tanner DeVinny. Sjolander worked the top of the seventh and went to a 2-0 count on his sixth batter, designated hitter Seth Stevens.

He felt pain in his arm, and pitching coach Keith Harper immediately removed him from the game. Sjolander, a left-hander from Emporia State University, had complained about elbow pain in his last outing and it took a week of recovery before he could come back. Leo said it "doesn't look good." Hays will complete the two-game series tonight at 7 p.m.

"We don't have great depth," Leo said. "I still like our ballclub. You are going to have those bumps in the road. We talked about it after the game. It depends just how long you let that bump last. It will make or break a summer.

"We have got to bounce back tomorrow and play a good, clean game and get after it."

Olinger made his first start and worked six innings. Alec Issac led off the game with a homer on a 1-2 pitch to left field. In the third inning, he allowed a leadoff double and a walk. On an 0-1 count, first baseman Zach Hoffman hit a popup behind home plate.

Larks catcher Ty Detmer, though, lost his glove at home plate and tried to catch the ball barehanded. Detmer couldn't corral the popup, and it landed safely. Hoffman eventually reached on an error.

After a strikeout, Liberal tallied three straight hits and bumped the lead to 4-0. Hoffman homered in the fifth, and Liberal added another run in the seventh. Hays had just three hits.

"He lost the ball, and then the glove fell off," Leo said. "Just kind of the way the night went. The competitor that he is, he is still going to go after the ball and try and catch it barehanded. Just one of those freaky things."

Rain, hail and high winds were throughout Ellis County from first pitch, and there was some lightning in the distance in the first inning, but the game had little rain until midway through the contest.

Eighty-eight teachers, who had collectively taught 1,734 years, were honored on education night, but the crowd was sparse because of the weather. At 8:59 p.m., the umpires suspended the game and then ended the contest two minutes later.