Larks win another close one
By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Hays Larks had big hits and made outstanding defensive plays against Liberal on Wednesday, but it was the smaller, detail plays that really stood out to manager Frank Leo in the team's 5-4 win at Larks Park.
"That was a well played game on our part," Leo said. "We played small ball very well. Three good sac-bunts and we followed them up with base hits. You know, we got to do that in close games."
It's the second one-run win over Liberal (16-15, 10-15 Jayhawk League) in two days for Hays (18-11, 14-11) after dropping back-to-back games in Liberal over the weekend. It also was the second straight game in which the Larks fell into an early deficit to the Bee Jays. An RBI groundout by catcher Justin McCarty gave Liberal a 1-0 lead after two innings.
And like the night before, the Larks kept their cool. A two-run third inning for Hays put the Larks in the lead, center fielder Aaron Cornell's RBI triple getting things going. Shortstop Ty Leffler brought Cornell home a batter later on a RBI single.
Liberal had chances to add to its run total early in the game, but double plays by the Larks in both the third and fourth innings helped them hold onto a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom half of the fourth.
"I think what was really key for us early in that game is they got a leadoff hitter on a lot, but then Blake Roley settled in and made a pitch -- a groundball for a double play or a line drive at somebody," Leo said. "I think that was key early to kind of minimalize anything they could do to kind of get some momentum."
Designated hitter Kevin Czarnecki, a Fort Hays State University product, brought in another Lark run in the fourth inning after his RBI double scored right fielder Derek Birginske. Hays clung to its 3-1 lead entering the sixth inning, which proved to be the worst inning defensively for the Larks.
A fielding error by Hays third baseman Derrick Mount allowed the first base runner that inning, and Roley would walk the next batter to put two on. With two outs, Liberal got a RBI single for its first run, and McCarty brought the other two in on his double during the next at-bat.
Liberal took a 4-3 lead into the bottom half of the sixth when Birginske opened the frame with his game-tying home run, his third homer in the last two games. The Larks got the game-winning run in the seventh inning, a RBI single by Leffler scoring Mount.
The Larks' bullpen owned the final three innings, with David Koll, Ethan Landon and D.J. Carr each getting three outs, holding Liberal without a hit over that stretch.
"I thought our bullpen was outstanding. ... Finally got to use D.J. in a quality situation, a big win situation, and he responded very well," Leo said.
"I'm very, very pleased with the effort tonight. Outstanding on all parts. Guys stepped up big after coming off two losses at their place. They are right behind us in the standings. We had a chance to put some space between us by taking two back here and we did what we needed to do."
Koll (4-1) was awarded the win for Hays, his only inning coming in the seventh where he allowed no hits, one walk and got one strike out. Roley, who started the game, went 5.2 innings, allowing just two hits but walked five and allowed four runs, one earned.
Carr earned the save for Hays, his second of the season.
Birginske led the offense, going 1 for 3 with two runs and one RBI. Leffler was 2 for 4 with a team-best two RBI.
The Larks are off today before beginning a two-game series with Fort Collins, Colo., at 7 p.m. Friday at Larks Park.
Hays 5, Liberal 4
Liberal (16-15, 10-15) 010 003 000 -- 4 3 1
Hays (18-11, 14-11) 002 101 10x -- 5 8 2
Orwig, Jones (4), Luna (8) and McCarty; Roley, Gammon (6), Koll (7), Landon (8), Carr (9) and Hallock. W -- Koll (). L -- Jones. Sv -- Carr (2). 2B - McCarty, Liberal; Cornell, Czarnecki, Hays. 3B -- Cornell, Hays. HR -- Birginske, Hays.