Lack of offense hurts Larks in loss
By AUSTIN COLBERT
WICHITA -- One run on four hits. That was enough for the Hays Larks to win Saturday, but Sunday against the Hutchinson Monarchs was a different story.
"I don't know where we left our offense," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "We are in a funk. We are not being aggressive, and we are going to have to be aggressive because there is no holding back."
The Monarchs used seven good innings from starting pitcher Kyle Simonds to defeat Hays 3-1 in the winners' bracket of the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Simonds struck out six Lark batters and gave up only two hits, the first a harmless single from Aaron Cornell in the fourth inning.
"The guy that threw tonight kind of pitched just like the guy last night," said Cornell, who finished 2 for 3. "A lot of sliders and curve balls down. If we can lay off those it might be a different story earlier in the game."
Nick Goza (6-2) took the loss for the Larks. He worked six innings and gave up all three runs on four hits with two walks. While he struck out seven batters and was mostly effective, the inconsistency was enough for Hutchinson to take advantage.
Quentin Crandall drove in the first run of the game in the third for Hutchinson, scoring TJ Shedrick, who got on base after being hit by a Goza pitch.
Goza walked Brendan Miller right after to load the bases before hitting Todd Schultz with a pitch to give the Monarchs a 2-0 lead.
"Nick wasn't Nick Goza tonight," Leo said. "He struggled even though he kept them down. He wasn't ahead of the hitters the way he needed to be. But he gave us a chance to win and the bullpen gave us a chance to win."
Ian Bentley replaced Goza in the seventh inning, but lasted just long enough to load the bases with one out. Bentley quickly exited for Graylon Brown, who, before actually throwing a pitch, was called for a balk, advancing the runners and making it 3-0.
Brown struck out the final two batters the finished the game strong for Hays, but he needed to find some sort of help from his offense for Hays to escape a loss.
The Larks (34-12) finally found some luck in the eighth inning when Simonds was replaced by Alex Cox. A couple of walks and a single by pinch hitter Alex Bee, a Larks newcomer, loaded the bases for Cornell. Cornell was hit by a pitch, allowing Blair Beck to advance home for a run.
University of Kansas product Junior Mustain replaced Cox and finished off the final two Lark batters of the inning, stranding three runners.
"You scratch and claw and you get guys on, then you need that one guy to step up and get that hit," Cornell said. "Sometimes that happens for you, sometimes it doesn't. I would like for it to have happened."
The Larks almost found that magic in the bottom of the ninth. Trailing by two runs, Zair Koeiman drew a walk to open the inning and advanced to second after a single by Brent Gillespie with no one out.
A sacrifice-bunt by Beck moved the runners to second and third when Hutchinson took a gamble by intentionally walking Bee to load the bases with one out.
Jake Placzek struck out for the third time and Gilmore grounded out to end the game.
"We had opportunities tonight; we just didn't get clutch hits," Leo said. "I thought we were very timid tonight with men in scoring position."
The loss sends the Larks into the losers' bracket, where they will play the winner between the San Diego Stars at 4 p.m. in an elimination game. The Stars defeated the San Diego Force 2-1 early this morning.
With everything on the line, Leo made it clear the players need to find a quick fix to their offensive woes or it will be the end of their tournament run.
"(Today) is a day about how bad you want it. How deep inside you want to play and dig and fight," Leo said. "There is no tomorrow if we don't win. This is the time you find out how much heart they can play with. Because that's what it's about. Physical ability will shine if they can dig deep and play with some good heart."