It might have been opening night, but the Hays Larks were already in mid-summer form as far as entertainment value.
The Larks opened the season in rousing fashion, edging the Denver Cougars 6-5 in 12 innings on Friday night at Larks Park.
Eastern Michigan’s Devin Hager came through with the walkoff hit, lifting one over the center fielder’s head with two outs to score John Rensel Jr. from third base for the winning run.
“You learn about these guys, and we got some extra innings to learn a little bit more about them,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “Every game, every play now, we learn to trust guys and what they can do. Just real excited about that kind of start.”
Things looked bleak for the Larks in the 11th after Denver plated two runs in the top of the inning and then retired Hays’ first two batters in the bottom of the frame.
Kolby Robinson kept the Larks alive with a single, and a double by Ryne Randle put two in scoring position for Benedictine’s Daryl Myers.
Myers, who came on as a pitch runner in the 10th, then delivered a two-run double to right field to knot it at 5.
“He’s got a good bat,” Leo said of Myers. “We’ve got a lot of good bats, you can only play nine at a time. We made the change for him to run for Wyatt Divis, but I felt like if this game got extended Daryl could help us in that spot. That was big, first pitch. He didn’t mess around."
After Toby Scoles retired the Cougars in order in the top of the 12th, Rensel drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a sac bunt by Cole Solomon and then went to third on a passed ball.
Denver pitcher Ryan Hendrix got a groundout to third for the second out before giving up the walkoff hit to Hager.
Rensel, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from Eastern Michigan, was one of the Larks who stood out at the plate in the opener, tripling in the sixth while putting a couple other good swings on the ball.
"He’s got some juice in his bat,” Leo said. “The wind was a little tough for everybody today the way it was swirling and blowing around. But we did hit some good line drives and found some gaps. Devin’s ball was just crushed.”
Rensel was joined in the infield by Randle (Abilene Christian) at third, Robinson (Wallace Community College) at shortstop and Hager at second, while Solomon (UT-Arlington) got the start behind the plate.
Jared Martin (Stephen F. Austin) played left field, Matt Munoz (Abilene Christian) was in center and Michael Anastasia (NJIT) played right.
Left hander Nick Skeffington from UT-Arlington drew the start for the Larks, giving up one run in four innings while striking out six.
“Nick is coming into this summer having to sit out because of the D-I transfer rules,” Leo said. “He hasn’t pitched all spring, so that’s a good, fresh arm. He pitched in the league last year, I liked him last year. Just wondered how rusty he would be. He found his off-speed stuff and it was very good.”
Emporia State’s Sloan Baker tossed the fifth and sixth, allowing two runs, before Arizona Western’s Fabian Muniz tossed four straight scoreless innings for the Larks.
The Larks took a 2-1 lead in the fourth after back-to-back sac flies from Rensel and Solomon. Denver went back in front with two runs in the top of the fifth but Hays knotted it up in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by UT-Arlington's Divis, who was the Larks' designated hitter. Both teams would go scoreless for the next five innings.
Scoles, from Colorado School of Mines, allowed two runs in the top of the 11th before rebounding to earn the win after a perfect 12th inning.
Leo said it was a fun introduction to Larks baseball for the 2018 edition of his team.
“You could see how excited they were,” Leo said. “In extra innings, they had water cups filled each inning when we had guys on base. They were ready to celebrate and we finally got the chance to.”