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Cornell returns to Hays Larks



Son of Andrew Nicholl

On Friday night, Aaron Cornell, a Hays Larks fan favorite and former Jayhawk League Player of the Year, made his first appearance of the season in the ninth inning.

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Son of Andrew Nicholl

On Friday night, Aaron Cornell, a Hays Larks fan favorite and former Jayhawk League Player of the Year, made his first appearance of the season in the ninth inning.

Cornell, who helped Oklahoma State University reach the Super Regionals (final 16) of the NCAA Division I tournament, didn't appear at the plate or in his usual center field. Instead, for the first time in four years as a Lark, Cornell pitched.

He sandwiched a strikeout around two groundouts in a perfect ninth in a 11-0 Larks loss to Wellington in a Jayhawk League contest at Larks Park.

"He has always wanted to pitch as a Lark," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "He got his opportunity, and did OK. I thought he was really good."

Now, Cornell's future is uncertain.

"It's up in the air right now," Cornell said.

Virtually every year, one or two graduating seniors -- like Cornell -- return to Hays looking to join an independent or professional club. Cornell, in his fourth year in Hays, has been contacted by people trying to help him, but said no teams have reached out. Even Wellington Heat manager Rick Twyman told Cornell that if the outfielder didn't have anything by summer's end, to contact him.

"A bunch of guys caring about me, keeping good connections," Cornell said.

Cornell said he isn't "100 percent sure" that he wants to play professional baseball. Cornell is 26 hours short of his degree and has homework to do this weekend. He wants to graduate.

"If I go on and try doing independent ball league or whatever, I don't know if I would like it for one," Cornell said. "Two, it would put me behind schoolwork, so if I don't like it or get cut, then come in midseason and I will have to work, I guess, and I will not be able to go to school."

Cornell delivered a great freshman season at Eastern Oklahoma junior college before he went to Hays and collected Jayhawk League POY honors. He struggled and played little as a sophomore for the Cowboys, but played in 43 games (33 starts) as a junior and was Academic All-Big 12 first team. This past spring, Cornell batted .227 in 41 contests with 19 starts for a 48-18 team.

Cornell's feelings changed after Cowboy graduate Josh Holliday took over the program in June 2012. Holliday led OSU to a 41-19 record and NCAA tournament berth in Cornell's junior year before the continued improvement this season. Josh Holliday is a Stillwater native and older brother of St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder Matt Holliday.

"It was an awesome experience," Cornell said. "Never been a part of anything more life-changing than that. The things you learn besides just baseball with those guys -- you learn about team and friendships. The new coaches there, they brought a whole different feel to what Cowboy baseball is, and that's family. It's changed my whole perspective on the sport."

Cornell wants to be a coach and will go back to OSU next year and expects to be around the team next season.

"Try to learn some more," he said.

Cornell received a big welcome when he was introduced in the ninth inning Friday. Cornell had told Larks assistant coach Jay Sanders that he wanted to pitch when he came back to Hays.

"It's just a different feeling that you are coming here as an older guy and not a guy coming here who is going back to school ball," Cornell said. "This could be it for me."

Six straight days

Friday's loss was the fourth of six consecutive games in as many days for Hays. All six are Jayhawk League contests. Hays will play six straight days from June 24-29, but just five are league contests. Generally, college teams play four or five days a week, sometimes fewer depending on weather.

Hays has gone W-L-W-L in the first four contests with polarizing degrees of performance with little bench help.

"Guys have to play everyday, and they have to grind it out," Leo said. "We are going to have to get used to that, and we don't have opportunities to give guys days off.

"You look on the bench, there is nobody there right now that we can mix things up with," he added. "We have got to grind through it, and I think that's part of it is guys not used to having to play six days in a row."

Two bases

On Thursday night, the Larks defeated Liberal 13-6 and received an assist from one of Leo's most favorite plays - taking two bases off an infield single. In the sixth inning, Nate Olinger singled after Cooper Langley hit a two-out, two-run homer. Olinger then stole second base. Tanner DeVinny followed with a ground ball to second base. He was safe in a close play, and Olinger kept running and scored.

"I love that play," Leo said. "We remind our runners about that all the time. When you've got guys that understand that, man, I love to watch that play materialize. You can see it materializing. Nate read it well. The result was there. It snuck a run in there for us."