A perk of winning the Jayhawk League, the Hays Larks finally got a chance to have some down time after grinding through a 44-game regular season.
The Larks will have had nine days in between games by the time they open play in the National Baseball Congress World Series this weekend at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita.
They earned the break after automatically advancing to the championship week of the World Series by virtue of winning the league championship.
After three days completely off without baseball, the Larks held a home run derby on Monday and stayed sharp with a couple of intrasquad scrimmages on Tuesday and Wednesday. Other team activities included golf and bowling outings this week.
"The big thing is that it kept them together as a team to do some team things, which is so important now as we get toward the end of the summer," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
The Larks return from the layoff to begin the NBC World Series against the Clarinda (Iowa) A's at 7 p.m. Friday to open pool play. They enter 34-10 overall and went 26-9 in league play.
“They’ve had a great summer,” Leo said. “Now we need to take the next step and take it down to Wichita and keep doing the things we’ve been doing.
“It’s a crazy game. Anything can happen. But I do feel like we have the kind of ball club, if we can continue to do the things we’ve done all summer, that has a chance to stay in that tournament for a while.”
The Larks have made several runs at the NBC World Series title before, finishing runner-up five times. They reached the semifinals last season.
“Pitching and the defense is big, but it’s also being opportunistic on offense,” Leo said. “You get opportunities, you’ve got to put runs up. They’re all going to be good teams. Runs could be at a premium in the tournament. You go up against some good arms so you’ve got to be opportunistic when you have chances to try and score runs.”
Along with Clarinda, the Larks are joined in their pool by the Wellington Heat and the San Diego Stars. The Larks will play again Sunday before finishing pool play on Tuesday.
“Clarinda has tradition,” Leo said. “Don’t know much about how their season went this year, but you’ve got to respect every opponent. You can’t take anybody lightly. You have to prepare for that game, try to get a W and move on to the next one.
"The Wellington Heat have been in our league and traditionally they have very strong ball clubs. They’re going to have some veteran guys because they can use some ex-Minor Leaguers in their league. So they’re going to have good experience and be a strong ball club. The San Diego Stars, I don’t know much about, but I know the San Diego teams that come to this tournament are usually very competitive.”
The Larks are led offensively by Easton Kirk, who had a league-best .404 batting average. Ryne Randle hits .386 and Daryl Myers has a .343 average with a team-high seven home runs.
On the mound, Michael Wong is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA while Fabian Muniz is 5-1 and sports a 1.81 ERA. Wyatt Divis, the Larks' starting third baseman, has allowed just two runs in 27.2 innings in relief for a 0.65 ERA.
“It’s exciting for the guys just to be in that kind of position, playing national teams from all over,” Leo said. “It’s kind of the culmination of what you’ve earned in the summer time. The draw back is it’s been a grind in the summer time. When the summer comes to an end and you get to this tournament, things happen in a hurry. School’s going to be starting up for these guys, so we got to keep them excited and we got to keep them focused.”