Larks get non-league win
By NICK McQUEEN
Last season, the Hays Larks earned a bid to Championship Week of the National Baseball Congress World Series via a Jayhawk League championship.
Under the NBC’s new format introduced last season, that meant the Larks would sit for nine days without a game before they began play.
With a second-place league finish this season, the Larks face the same scenario, only the layoff might not be quite as long. Hays is expected to begin play Aug. 1 or 2 in Wichita.
Wednesday night’s game at Larks Park — the first of three to close the regular season — was exactly what Hays manager Frank Leo wants to see his team doing to prepare, and wants to possibly see more of it next week as the Larks get ready for this summer’s run in Wichita.
The Larks (27-13) won 6-5 in non-Jayhawk League action against the Junction City Brigade, after holding off a late rally from the visitor.
“That’s what we need,” Leo said. “We don’t need a 15-0 laugher. We need our guys to be intense, we need to do some small things to try and score some runs. And we need to play defense. Our defense was good tonight, and offense, we got key hits when we needed them.”
The Brigade, which finished second in the Mid-Plains League (league tournament champion), did not qualify for the NBC. After the two play Friday, Leo hopes the two teams could work something out again next week, so the Larks are not facing down time.
“We need to get pushed and they pushed us,” Leo said. “That’s a quality team, and we get to see them again Friday.”
Plus with the help of Larks veterans Aaron Breit and Justin Ziegler on Wednesday, Hays got a chance to rest some arms, and can get some more in the next two days to get some work in.
Breit, who played his last full season with the Larks in 2005, pitched for the second time this summer. The Thomas More Prep-Marian graduate and former minor-leaguer (Padres) worked five innings Wednesday. He gave up two earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. He was perfect through three innings.
“That’s what a veteran does. He gives up a couple runs, he’s going to keep his poise,” Leo said of Breit. “He had a little bit left in the tank, came back out and had a good fifth inning.
“He ate up some big innings, and saved a lot of our guys for the next two nights, so they can get the work they need to get.”
Ziegler, one of the Larks’ top pitchers in 2012, pitched 2.2 innings, but struggled in the eighth with a 6-2 lead. Ian Bentley came in with the tying run at third to record the out, then worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save.
Breit (2-0, 1.80 earned-run average) could be added to the Larks’ NBC roster for depth, if things are feeling right, Leo said.
“It’s two good outings he’s given us,” Leo said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling if we have room on our roster. We’ve put him on our roster before, and it’s really easy to do it again.”
The Larks’ offense, trailing 2-0 in the fifth got a big boost from newcomer Brooks Ballisterri. In just his second game in a Larks’ uniform, the third baseman drove in the Larks’ first run on a two-out single. That opened the door for a two-run home run by Tyler Detmer to give Hays the 3-2 lead. Then Hays took the 6-2 lead after a two-run double by Joe Hallock in the sixth.
“This is a great bunch of guys,” Leo said. “They play their hearts out on the field, and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them do to.”
That included several morning camps the Larks put on this summer, and various community events.
“They’ve done it without blinking an eye, and they’ve fought through some hard times,” Leo said. “Where they were a month ago, and how we were struggling, and where they are now — that’s a feather in the cap of those guys out there between the white lines, and the guys on the bench.”
Counting the conclusion of the suspended game against Derby, Hays now has won seven straight, and 11 of its last 13. The Larks will wrap up Jayhawk League play at 7 p.m. today against Dodge City (18-23 overall, 10-23 JL).
“We need to get our work in.” Leo said. “We have two more games for sure. We’re preparing for the big prize next weekend.”