Downing's arm helps in two ways for Hays Sr. Legion
By CONOR NICHOLL
In two different ways, Hays Senior Legion's Layne Downing's arm helped carry the Eagles to a pair of victories on Friday at Larks Park of the first day of the Wild West Fest tournament in Hays. In Game 1, Downing threw a no-hitter in a 11-0 victory against Junction City that was called after four innings because of the run rule. It marked Downing's second no-hitter of the year; he had thrown one this spring for Hays High School against Liberal.
"We just want our guys to challenge hitters, and with the wood bat, and especially with the wind today, balls weren't going to travel very far," coach Brad Kelly said. "It's just locating fastball. It's just getting ahead of hitters, and then once you get a strike or two on them, you can do a lot of things. You can go hard, or you can try and throw offspeed at them. Layne did a good job of basically attacking hitters first pitch of the at-bat."
In the second contest, Downing, solid at third base all year, made five assists and a putout, including several nice plays. Hays defeated the Colorado Bandits, 9-4, and made just one error to the Bandits' six. Marcus Altman threw a complete game victory for the win. Hays moved to 17-11 and has won six in a row.
"If we don't make those errors, we have a different ball game," Bandits coach Scott Bland said. "You can't make five or six errors and expect to win a ballgame. Errors have hurt us (this year). Hitting the ball is what has really hurt us. We don't hit the ball well."
The Eagles knew little about most of the teams before the tournament, but had a good grasp of Junction City before Friday. On May 10, Junction City and Hays High split a doubleheader. Junction City won the first game, 1-0, behind a shutout from Tate Zimmerman. Before Friday's game, Hays knew Zimmerman was going to pitch again. This time, Zimmerman worked just three innings and allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits. Hays tallied two runs in the first, one in the third and eight in the fourth. Hayden Hutchison finished 3 of 3 with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored. Downing struck out seven. The only batter that reached base came on the first batter of the game when catcher Jake Sedbrook made an error after a strikeout.
"It was pretty laid back," Downing said. "They weren't real great hitters, but our defense was making plays when we needed to."
Downing had thrown several one-hitters last summer before he worked the no-hitter in a 9-0 win against Liberal on May 7. Downing threw 57 pitches, 27 in the first inning. He used a four-seam fastball effectvely. The right-hander moved to 3-2 with a 1.94 earned-run average in 39.2 innings. He is tied for the team lead in victories and paces the squadd in innings pitched, strikeouts (32), appearances (nine) and starts (six).
"My cutter wasn't really locating very well, but my fastball was working in and out good," Downing said.
In the second game, Downing, Hutchison and Clayton Basgall again played well in the infield. The trio has played together for many years dating back to the Hays Indians, a strong team that won a K-18 championship. When they were younger, Downing played second, Basgall was at shortstop and Hutchison played third. When they entered high school, the coaches did some shifting. Now, Basgall mainly plays second, Hutchison at short and Downing at third. Downing has well thrown well from the three-quarters slot -- a throw he developed at shortstop - and over the top. Downing has five errors and 56 assists this year. He had six errors and 42 putouts in high school.
"Natural," he said. "I have always had kind of a strong arm, but I think since high school started, throwing a lot of long toss has really helped it out that much more. ... The improvement is amazing to see."
"Good third baseman," Bland added. "Plays very well."
Altman (3-1) worked a complete game with just one strikeout against three walks. He coaxed 14 infield outs, including a double play. Hays scored three runs in the first, two in the second and four in the fifth. John Griffith delivered a key hit with a bases loaded, two-out opposite field double to left-center in the first.
"Marcus has all the tools to be a really good baseball player," Kelly said. "How he develops is going to be kind of up to him. The work that he puts in, just not during the season, but even in the offseason. He is young enough where he still has three years left to play, and his potential is really high. I know we are going to continue to work with him. I know the coaches at the high school are going to continue to work with him. We hope to see improvement every single year."
In the third inning, Hutchison made a nice play when he dove in the hole and threw to Downing at third for an out. Downing displayed a nice arm on a ground ball on the final out of the fourth. He ended the sixth on a ground ball and the seventh on a play where he fell down and made the out from deep in the corner.
"I really don't know what happened," Downing said. "I knew I was on my knee and I was like, 'Why not?' One run scores. We still have got four more. There's a chance for an out, why not go for it?"
One of the tournament rules is teams can bat 10 with a designated hitter and an extra hitter. However, Kelly decided to just use nine, but the Bandits batted 10. Kelly used Griffith as the DH for right fielder Brady Bieker. The top four hitters in Hays lineup are Basgall (.441 average), center fielder Dan Bittel (.346), Hutchison (.567) and first baseman Chandler Rule (.326), who are also the team's top four hitters in batting average.
"For one, my stat program goes nine," Kelly said with a laugh. "It's easier for me to keep stats that way. I can't throw an EH in there. I like DHing for guys and especially playing high school rules, you can DH for anybody in the lineup. Personally, I like getting back to the top of our order as quick as we possibly can. Hitting nine makes sense for us."