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Larks bats alive in league win

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Hays Larks had already lost 6-0 to Liberal on Wednesday night. Then, in the top of the first inning in Thursday's second game of a two-game Jayhawk League set, Liberal leadoff hitter Alec Issac hit a swinging bunt down the third base line.

The bat broke and Hays starter Jake Fromson had to defend his body against the barrel that flew to the pitcher's mound. Liberal eventually loaded the bases with none out.

"Jake starts bearing down," Hays manager Frank Leo said.

Fromson, helped by a big, bending slider that kept the BeeJays off-balance all night, coaxed two straight ground balls that led to force plays at home and ended the inning with a strikeout.

Fromson's performance and a big night from Hays' offense eventually delivered a 13-6 victory at Larks Park. The Larks moved to 9-1, 6-1 Jayhawk League, while Liberal dropped to 6-4, 2-4.

"Great bounce back, a lot of good things, big things happened in the course of that game," Leo said.

Hays took a 7-0 lead, but Liberal scored five unearned runs in the sixth when Larks second baseman Matt Luety dropped a fly ball in short right field.

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Tyler Leffler doubled and then designated hitter Cooper Langley followed with a two-run homer to left field that bumped the lead to 9-5. Langley, from Fort Hays State University, had battled to two strikes and Leo thought Langley had a nice approach on a well-struck foul ball before the homer. Hays finished with 20 hits.

"That was big, that turned that game around," Leo said.

The game changed for both teams in the first inning. With the bases loaded and none out, Liberal's Zach Hoffman hit a grounder to Larks third baseman Kevin Czarnecki, who threw home for the force play.

The ground ball was a chopper, and Leo believed Czarnecki made the right call, rather than going to second or first. Larks catcher Tanner DeVinny was yelling "four, four" on the grounder, telling Czarnecki to throw home.

"It wasn't a hard-hit ground ball," Leo said. "I don't think we were going to be able to turn two, maybe not even get the guy at second, and he had to make a long throw to first, so I thought he made a great decision to go four on that."

Then, Fromson coaxed a ground ball to Nate Olinger at first. Olinger charged and threw home for the second out.

"Really, it was kind of a medium hit ball, I don't know if he can go to second on that and get the force at second, the play at first would be close," Leo said. "He made a great decision and came home."

Fromson ended the inning on back-to-back sliders that Liberal designated hitter Brandon Johnson swung and missed.

"Tanner DeVinny caught him all spring, so he knows his best stuff, and he understands what the bread and butter is," Leo said. "He used the bread and butter."

Fromson (2-0) eventually worked 5.2 innings and allowed five unearned runs on 10 hits with eight strikeouts and no walks.

"He pitched really well to both sides of the plate," Liberal manager Adam Anderson said. "He had the fastball that he would run in, and then he had the slider going the other direction."

After a scoreless first and second innings, Hays delivered five runs in the third against Liberal reliever Brent Cleland, who relieved starter Austin King after the first inning.

"I wouldn't call it injured," Anderson said of King. "He said his arm was a little sore today, so I just erred on the side of caution. I didn't want to throw him out there if his arm wasn't feeling 100 percent. It was one of those things where he just came up to me after the first and said he wasn't feeling good."

Michael Burns and Czarnecki each doubled and Derek Birginske drove home two runs with a two-run single. Hays scored in every inning after the second and Langley provided separation with his homer. Hays is scheduled to open a three-game home series against league-leading Wellington tonight. Start time is 7 at Larks Park.