WICHITA — The Hays Larks were one hit away from completing a dramatic rally against the Wellington Heat, seeing the comeback bid fall short with a 6-5 loss in the NBC World Series on Sunday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
But in a game that easily could have gotten out of hand, the Larks might have generated some momentum they can take into a must-win game on Tuesday.
Hays trailed 6-0 after four innings before scoring five unanswered, including two in the bottom of the eighth to cut the deficit to a run.
After back-to-back two-out singles from R.J. Williams and Wyatt Divis in the bottom of the ninth, Hays had the potential tying run at second base and the winning run at first. But Easton Kirk hit a hard grounder for a force out at second to end the game.
The Larks dropped to 1-1 in pool play but can still advance to bracket play with a win over the San Diego Stars at 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
"It's real easy when we're down 6-0 to say, 'Alright, maybe this one ain't ours,' " Larks manager Frank Leo said. "But they never quit. That was a good sign to see. We made some good momentum at the end of that ball game.
"That last one that Easton hit, just another foot and that guy's not going to get it. He just barreled it, unfortunately right at 'em. I think if that ball would have stayed down, instead of coming up, it probably goes through his legs."
Larks’ starter Michael Wong looked nearly untouchable through two innings, striking out six of the first seven batters. But Wong hit a snag in the third inning, allowing three runs including a two-run double by Luis Amaro.
Wong exited in the fourth after giving up an RBI ground-rule double to David Burts and the Heat pushed the lead to 6-0 on a two-run double by Alex Lyon off Austin Thomason.
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole to try and catch up against a good ball club like that," Leo said.
The Larks (35-11) got on the board in the fifth after Nic Gaddis homered for the second straight game, tucking one inside the left field foul pole for a two-run shot.
Hays inched closer on a sacrifice fly from Clayton Rasbeary in the bottom of the sixth to cut it to 6-3 and then closed to within a run after an RBI double from John Rensel Jr. and an RBI single from Rasbeary in the eighth.
Wellington starter Brett Clark went eight innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits. Hayden Woolsey earned the save for the Heat, working around the pair of two-out singles.
"That lefty was a finesse lefty. He kept us off stride," Leo said of Clark. "We finally started figuring him out and barreling some balls."
Rustin Hays, a new pick-up, gave the Larks four scoreless innings of relief to keep them in the game.
"He's a different kind of pitcher, and that's why we picked him up," Leo said. "He's a knuckle-ball guy that's going to keep guys off stride. He did a tremendous job. The nice thing about an arm like that is he can come back every day. We do have a day off, so he'll be ready to go on Tuesday."
The game was 2 hours and 15 minutes late starting after the Santa Barbara Foresters beat the Dodge City A’s 20-12 in the previous game. It set the NBC World Series record for combined runs and hits (38) in a game.
Wellington moved to 2-0 in pool play. Hays and San Diego are both 1-1 while Clarinda is 0-2. The top two teams in each pool advance to bracket play.
"We're still not done," Leo said. "These guys showed that they had some fight. They showed that they don't want their season end. That game could have gotten out of control. Now I think we do have so momentum going into Tuesday."