Larks rally for win, 3-0 in NBC
By AUSTIN COLBERT
By AUSTIN COLBERT
WICHITA — It was as if Derek Birginske could read Dylan Bein’s mind. The Hays Larks’ first baseman knew exactly what the Santa Barbara (Calif.) starting pitcher was about to throw and with one quick swing completely redirected the course of Tuesday’s game.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch. I was just sitting on it. I was just ready for it because he had been throwing it a lot,” Birginske said. “I knew he was going to go with the slider … and he just hung it and I was on it. And I hit it really far.”
Really far is an understatement. Birginske took Bein’s slider and sent it over the center field wall of Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The fifth-inning grand slam tied the game at five runs each after the Larks had trailed 5-0 to enter the inning.
Birginske’s grand slam helped pave the way for the Larks’ 9-7 win over the Foresters in the winners’ bracket semifinal game of the 80th annual National Baseball Congress World Series.
The win improved Hays (32-13) to 3-0 in the tournament and advanced them to today’s 7:30 p.m. winner’s bracket final against the National Junior College Athletics Association National Team, which defeated the Haysville Aviators, 10-1 (six innings), Tuesday night.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will advance to the NBC World Series finals on Saturday.
“At this point in the tournament you just got to prepare your own team. Don’t worry about the other team you are going to play and keep doing the things you are doing,” Hays manager Frank Leo said.
“Anytime us and Santa Barbara get together to play a ball game it’s going to be a battle. They are an outstanding organization; very well coached. They bring a lot of talent to this tournament. But you can’t take anything away from those guys on the other side of the field, man. They played their hearts out.”
Four and a half innings into Tuesday’s game, it looked liked the Larks were destined for the losers’ bracket. The Foresters put their first two runs on the board in the second inning off a two-run home run by center fielder Jaylin Davis. Then, in the top of the fifth inning, Santa Barbara drove in three more runs to take a 5-0 lead, all against Hays starter Aaron Breit.
With the game much in the hands of the Foresters, the Larks did the only thing they could — break out the rally caps. Out came all sorts of attire, from cowboy hats to Pikachu headwear, and for whatever reason it gave the Larks the spark they needed in the bottom of the fifth inning.
An error by the Forester defense led to the Larks’ first run, and a few batters later came Birginske with the bases loaded and a four-run deficit in front of him. And with one swing the game was back to square one.
“A lot of the guys just wanted to do it this year and we went ahead and did it and it seemed to work for us. We will keep doing it if it keeps working,” Birginske said of the team’s festive rally caps. “Our guys never quit. None of us do. If we get down or up by 10, we are going to keep playing hard. It’s all you can do is play hard.”
Craig Larkin replaced Breit after he gave up a double to open the top of the sixth inning, but only lasted through one out and a run before D.J. Carr stepped in. Santa Barbara scored two runs that inning to reclaim a 7-5 lead midway through the sixth.
The Larks found they had a second rally in them, however, and answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Hays batters hit into two quick outs to open the inning, but four straight hits followed — including back-to-back doubles — and the inning ended with the Larks leading 8-7.
“When you battle hard, it takes energy to get back and tie that thing up the way we were down,” Leo said. “They come back and put two up, you kind of wonder, ‘All right, how much fight is left in this club?’ I found out how much fight. There is a whole lot of fight in this club right now.”
Carr and Ian Bentley handled the Forester offense in the seventh and eighth innings, allowing only one combined hit. A RBI-single by Derrick Mount in the seventh scored Evan Gruener to make it 9-7 in favor of the Larks.
Blake Rogers took over for Bentley in the ninth inning, where the Foresters managed to get two base runners on with only one out against them. The Larks avoided disaster when a fielding error inadvertently led to a tag out at third base, and a fly out to right field ended the game.
Carr was awarded the win for the Larks, allowing two hits and no runs in 1.2 innings of relief. Breit went the first 5.0 innings, allowing nine hits and six runs with seven strikeouts. Rogers earned the save, giving up one hit and no runs over the final inning.
Birginske finished 1 for 4 with one run and four RBI. Tyler Leffler was 2 for 4 with two runs and three RBI and Michael Burns 3 for 5 with two runs.
“Again a tribute to these guys, where they were earlier this year and how much fun they are having out there and how they are pulling for each other no matter what their role has been,” Leo said. “These guys want to keep playing together. They fought all summer, so every chance they get to get back on the field, that’s going to be a bonus for them. And they are enjoying it. They are having a heck of a time.”