Larks win NBC tourney opener
By AUSTIN COLBERT
By AUSTIN COLBERT
WICHITA -- Hays Larks manager Frank Leo wanted his players to come out aggressive. With their National Baseball Congress World Series opener having a 12:40 a.m. first pitch Saturday, Leo knew it was important for them to get going early before fatigue set in during the wee hours of the morning.
"At this time of night, things do get a little sluggish as you could see in the late innings," Leo said. "I felt like we needed to get a bunch -- as many as we could -- in the early innings and do what we had to do."
Leo got his wish as the Larks (30-13) built a 5-0 lead after an inning and a half and went on to defeat the San Diego Waves, 6-3, in the first round of Championship Week at Wichita's Lawrence Dumont Stadium. The win advanced the Larks into the winner's bracket of the 16-team, double-elimination tournament, where they were set to play the Seattle Studs -- the defending NBC World Series champions -- Saturday at 10 p.m.
It didn't take long for the Larks to get their offense going against San Diego. Hays leadoff hitter Michael Burns drove a double into left field on the first pitch of the game and scored two batters later on a sacrifice hit by Ty Detmer.
Leading 1-0 after an inning, it was the bottom half of the Larks' order that came alive in the second to help create the large, early lead for Hays.
"The lower half did it and that's what it's going to take. You don't need, and you're not going to get, nine guys every ball game squaring them up," Leo said. "You got to execute in this series. This isn't Larks Park. Some of the balls we hit tonight might have been home runs at Larks Park. We've got to play small ball and that's got to be the best execution of small ball in one inning that I've had here at Lawrence Dumont."
The Larks opened the second inning with three straight singles from Zair Koeiman, Evan Gruener and Aaron Cornell -- the five, six and seven hitters -- with Koeiman's run the first of four that inning.
Derrick Mount, the team's No. 9 hitter, would score Gruener for the second run on a fielder's choice, and it was Burns, a Wichita State University product, that brought in both Cornell and Mount for runs four and five when he hit his second double in as many innings.
"Some part of the order gets hot as it did tonight in the bottom half. And then turning it over to Michael at the top was key for us tonight," Leo said.
San Diego started to find its own offense in the bottom of the second when it scored two runs off Larks' starting pitcher Nick Goza. Despite the bumpy stretch, Goza would hold on to pitch 6.0 innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs for his sixth win of the season.
Leading 5-3 entering the sixth inning, the Larks added the game's final run when Gruener scored from first base on a Cornell double. Ian Bentley and D.J. Carr finished the game on the mound, holding San Diego to only two combined hits the final three innings.
Burns finished the game 3 for 5 with one run and two RBI, while Cornell was 3 for 4 with one run and two RBI.
"It's going to be a challenge. You get down to the final 16 in the tournament and you start winning ball games and going up against those perennially tough teams, you need to bring your 'A' game, and we got to do that tomorrow," Leo said of Saturday night's game with Seattle.
"Tomorrow night will be big. If we win tomorrow night we are off until Tuesday. Obviously we are going to have to play that same kind of clean game tomorrow night against the Seattle Studs, last year's defending champion. They are always in the hunt for the title."