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Larks set for NBC World Series

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

If the Hays Larks weren't comprised of college students already used to staying up late at night, manager Frank Leo might be more worried about the team's 1 a.m. start Saturday morning in its opening game of the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita.

"There is nothing you can really do to prepare for it ... typically they are up until one or two in the morning. Their eating schedule will have to change a little bit so they have enough energy," Leo said. "I wouldn't say they are super enthused about playing at one, but I think they are looking forward to it. It will be something different for them."

The Larks (29-13) will face the San Diego Waves at 1 a.m. Saturday in Game 2 of the first round of Championship Week, which is a 16-team, double-elimination tournament to decide the winner of the 80th annual NBC World Series, played at Wichita's Lawrence Dumont Stadium.

The Larks took seventh at the NBC World Series last year, and third the year. Hays has never previously won the tournament but has had numerous runner-up finishes.

And Leo knows key to advancing deep into the tournament is winning the first game, which puts a team into the winner's bracket. A first-game loss can be difficult to overcome long term in a double-elimination tournament.

"Without a doubt, it's important to win it. Gets your feet on the ground. That first game is always a very tough one," Leo said. "When you see scores from past World Series games, they are low scoring games. We are going to play for runs early and try to manufacture. It will be a challenge."

After winning nine of their first 10 games this season, the Larks stumbled through the middle portion of the season after injuries decimated the roster. According to Leo, Hays has lost 14 of the 26 players that were on the team's roster June 1, most because of injury.

Given the timing of the injuries early in the schedule, Leo was able to find replacements and get others healed enough for the Larks to finish second in the Jayhawk League behind Wellington and punch their ticket straight into Championship Week of the NBC World Series.

"I think the key is we got healthy. We were able to manipulate some things over the course of the game to try and equal out the playing field against different opponents, which we couldn't do that earlier in the summer," Leo said. "Our starters gave us some quality starts and the bullpen took over. We got timely hits. We bunted well. It was a good combination of things."

Leo plans to start Nick Goza, a junior from Delta State University in Mississippi, against San Diego on Saturday morning. Goza's eight starts are tied with Jake Fromson for the most of any Lark, and he enters the World Series with a 5-4 record and 3.65 earned-run average.

"It's like we told our pitching staff and we told our team, this is no longer a three-game series we are worried about," Leo said. "Now it's double elimination, so there is a sense of urgency with every ball game. It's not like we can wait until the Saturday game and still win the series. The time is now and not tomorrow. We got to approach it like the first game is the one we got to win."